LIMA — The challenge facing the Greater Lima area’s aging automotive industry is not only one of preventing a “brain drain” of skills and knowledge as Baby Boomer employees retire. It’s finding the young people who are interested in learning from these auto industry veterans, people who are willing to help their employers thrive and grow.
Or, as the Allen County Economic Development Alliance put it in its 2016 workforce report, it’s not only a question of quality, it’s a question of quantity. How can auto companies attract Millennials to their industry?
Wages alone aren’t enough. Manufacturing workers earn higher wages than most other job sectors in Limaland: $53,189 a year in 2015, second only to professional service providers ($54,753) and company managers ($80,953), according to the Alliance. But manufacturing wages have stagnated since the recession, its report said, decreasing by nearly 10 percent since 2005.
To attract young local talent, automotive companies have looked to other incentives.
AAP senior manager Dan Hosek said the wheel maker has started offering scholarships to Apollo Career Center for manufacturing maintenance training.
“We had two last year, one the year before,” he said. “We’ll do another this year.”
Four years ago, facing huge hiring needs after doubling in size, Grob Systems, in Bluffton, revamped its apprenticeship program, offering to pay for a two-year associates degree at Rhodes State College in mechanical engineering technology or electrical engineering technology. There’s even an option for a company-paid, four-year bachelor’s degree.
“No one wanted a journeyman’s tool and die card,” manager Darrin Lanasky said of Grob’s decision to abandon its former state certification apprenticeship program. “We said, ‘We get it. Let’s give them a degree.’”
They also get their health insurance paid for, a 3 percent company match of their 401(k) retirement contributions and a free lunch, every day. Applications are being accepted until March 17 for the next class.
Local automotive companies are also marketing themselves to a younger audience, seeking out local high school students rather than college juniors and seniors. They tout the quality-of-life benefits of living in a rural community, close to family and friends.
“We spent a lot of energy going to the cities. We went to the really huge schools to try to recruit, and they came here and said, ‘We can’t live here,’” Lanasky said. “We don’t target them anymore. That’s why Ohio Northern University does so well with us. If you can live in Ada, you can live in Bluffton.”
Promotional efforts for Crown in New Bremen reach as far as the sixth grade through plant tours, which allow students a glimpse into the work its 4,200 employees do.
“When I look back to when I started my career, I was one of the few who came back to the area,” said Crown vice president Randy Niekamp. “Now, as my daughters are graduating, they plan on coming back. They recognize the value of the area.”
Reach Amy Eddings at 567-242-0379 or Twitter, @lima_eddings.