Last updated: July 10. 2014 7:32PM - 3112 Views
By - ckelly@civitasmedia.com

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LIMA — Manufacturers in the region pay more to employees with basic skill sets than they did before the recession, but they’re still have trouble finding qualified employees, according to a manufacturing survey released Thursday.

The West Central Ohio Manufacturing Consortium, Rhodes State College and Northwest Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership conducted the regional survey of manufacturers. It looked at 52 companies representing 56 facilities in 12 counties. It’s the first survey since 2007, before a recession hit Ohio.

“This survey is really unique in that it gives us a snapshot of how things have changed since the recession,” Doug Durliat, director of the West Central Ohio Manufacturing Consortium, said. “It happened to be pretty uncanny how the timing turned out.”

The average starting wage for the basic skill level was $8.50 per hour, up from $7.50 in 2007. The average range is $9.50 to $13. Intermediate wages started at $10 with an average range of $15 to $21, $2 higher than the previous survey and returning to the levels recorded in 2004. The advanced range starts at $10, with an average range of $20 to $35 per hour.

The greatest challenge found in this most recent survey is a lack of skilled labor. Companies found it difficult to find training at the basic level, with 26 percent finding it difficult, up from 17 percent in 2007. Companies reported problems with the “soft” skills at the basic level, such as punctuality, completing tasks on time and following directions.

“One of the biggest lacks we’ve seen is a lack of critical thinking skills and leadership ability,” Patrick Easton, manager of administration for KMI Manufacturing in Kalida, said. “We have opportunities for team leader positions, but often we get frustrated because we have trouble finding that one person who stands out from the rest.”

With more companies becoming more computerized, the increased demand for tech-savvy labor has spread that skilled labor thin.

“Being a newer company, we’ve dealt with robotics for a long time,” Easton said, “but as more companies become more automated, we lose some of that skilled workforce as the demand grows.”

However, the results of the survey give reason for optimism in this area’s manufacturing sector.

“Several companies we surveyed in 2007 as well as 2012 and 2013 are at least as large or even larger than they were before the recession,” Durliat said. “How these companies recovered surprised me.”

Rick Turner, director of adult education at Apollo Career Center, echoed that optimism.

“I always tell potential students that there has never been a better opportunity for a job seeker if you have the technical skills that employers are looking for,” he said.

One trend that has grown significantly according to the survey is co-ops and internships in the workplace, with twice as many companies favoring this method than five years ago. This experiential learning method is one that both Turner and Durliat embrace.

“We always encourage people to look at alternate methods for advancing your career above and beyond the traditional bachelors and masters degree method,” Turner said. “Employers are more interested in internships now.”

“This is part of what companies have learned post-recession,” Durliat said. “Rhodes State was able to obtain a couple of grants to beef up the co-op and internship program, and we have been more aggressively incorporating co-ops and internships. It’s evolving to where a student will be required to have an internship or a co-op before they can qualify for graduation.”

According to Easton, the notion of internships is necessary not only for helping upcoming workers obtain the proper skill set, but it also helps retain quality employees in the region.

“To keep some of this skilled labor, we have to reach out in the college years,” he said. “When you’re in a smaller area and can’t perhaps offer the same kind of money available in larger cities, you have to work to retain them early.”

As institutions like Rhodes State College and Apollo Career Center continue to adjust their vocational education methods based on information from these surveys, Easton and other employers are optimistic that the region will produce a larger, homegrown skilled labor force.

“They are definitely heading in the right direction, and we appreciate the work that Doug and the rest of them are doing out there,” Easton said. “It’s so much better to be able to send someone to train in Lima rather than sending them to Detroit or somewhere else.”

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