Area manufacturers desperate for skilled labor
By Michael Sasso | Tribune StaffODESSA - President Barack Obama two week ago shared some good news — for a change — about U.S. manufacturing.
Published: February 29, 2012
Published: February 29, 2012
Master Lock in Milwaukee brought jobs back to America, a boost for the president's plan to restore U.S. manufacturing.
But some Florida manufacturers wonder where they'll get skilled workers to fill factories.
Peter Buczynsky wants to expand his Trinity-Odessa area company, PharmaWorks, into a bigger building. But he can't find enough machinists, engineers and skilled technicians. One reason: High schools have killed their shop programs.
So, Buczynsky is hitting campuses and youth engineering clubs for future talent. He's letting teens build robots in his factory on weekends is pushing technical education in schools.
The good news is Suncoast manufacturers are looking to hire. But who will do the work?
PharmaWorks, which makes those plastic and foil cards encasing antacids and cough drops, demonstrates Florida's skills mismatch. There are plenty of jobs in specialized fields such as nursing and industrial engineering, but too many job seekers with basic business degrees or clerical experience.
Manufacturers are especially worried. At least 600,000 manufacturing jobs are going unfilled nationwide because of a lack of talent, according to estimates in a 2011 study by the Deloitte consulting firm and the Manufacturing Institute.
In Florida, Monster.com listed 6,500 open manufacturing jobs last month, said Eric Roe, who leads the Banner Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Polk State College. It's not clear how many are skilled, he said.
The workers hardest to find are machinists, skilled technicians who operate lathes, mills and other cutting tools and can turn a raw cube of metal into, say, an aircraft engine part.
Machinist Todd McLaughlan works at Southern Manufacturing Technologies in Tampa, which makes high-precision components for Boeing 737s, 787s and F/A 18 fighter jets.
"He could go to Cleveland, he could go to California and get a job in a day," Roy Sweatman, Southern's president, said.
Other in-demand jobs include software engineers who write programs for machines, and skilled assembly workers who build PharmaWorks' million-dollar, blister-pack machines.
The non-engineering jobs don't require college, but applicants need math skills and experience guiding automated machines, said PharmaWorks manufacturing manager Trevor Charlton. Ninety percent of the resumes` PharmaWorks gets don't meet the qualifications.
"We get people who hang an alternator on an engine 40 times a day. That doesn't cut it," Charlton said.
Behind the talent crisis is a cultural shift away from manufacturing and into more college-oriented disciplines, manufacturers say.
Most high schools on the Suncoast got rid of their shop programs years ago. A couple local colleges have two-year engineering technology degrees.
The only post-high-school machining program is at Pinellas Technical Education Centers. But it only graduates about 20 students a year in a county that may have 200 machine shops, said Alex DiTinno, a PTEC machining instructor.
PharmaWorks and Southern Manufacturing are scrambling to get young people interested in such work before companies run out of workers in those fields.
Both companies said they're already passing up contracts because of the labor shortage.
One of PharmaWorks' prized pupils is Joey Spissak, 17, a River Ridge High School student and Eagle Scout. He showed up at the factory one day hoping to learn something, and the company quickly offered him an internship, the teen said.
While other kids are playing with Xboxes, Spissak and friends spend some weekends at PharmaWorks designing a robot on the company's computers.
It will pick up a floor full of racquetballs and stack them, among other tricks.
One Saturday morning, Spissak showed up at PharmaWorks to work on the robot and finally left at midnight.
"Machines need to be designed," he said, "and after a machine's been designed someone's always going to need to manufacture it."