Employers partner with educators to promote skilled careers

October 8, 2012

From thenorthwestern.com: “Companies see skills gap” — Manufacturing needs a salesman, and Jay Manufacturing turned to John Milos.

“Manufacturing is growing! And it’s growing right here in Oshkosh,” Milos, the metal fabricator’s vice president of sales, told a group of Oshkosh North students Friday. “There’s a gigantic need for skilled labor in manufacturing, so we’re asking people to give us another look.”

Milos was just one of the managers from Jay who gave tours of the company’s west side manufacturing operations to North and West students recently. The visit was the first step in a collaborative effort to fill that need by a group of manufacturers who normally compete against each other to fill skilled labor jobs like welding and machine operation.

Jay, Muza Metal Products, Oshkosh Corp., Fox Valley Technical College and the Oshkosh Area School District form the core of the partnership to bolster interest in good-paying careers and the training necessary to get them.

“This is critical from Oshkosh Corp.’s viewpoint,” Oshkosh Corp. Supplier Development Engineer Warren Long said. “We are one of the region’s biggest employers and we may only need 1,000 welders. But our supply chain needs 5,000. It’s absolutely critical that we close the skills gap.”

President Barack Obama brought up a need for manufacturers and community colleges to work more closely together to bridge the skills gap for a good reason: Programs like the one launched Friday in Oshkosh could put a serious dent in the unemployment rate.

“Manufacturers have 7 million jobs open and no one to fill them,” Long said. “There are 23 million people unemployed, but they don’t have the skills we need.”

It’s not just about filling vacant positions, though. Fox Valley Technical College Production Welding Instructor Bob Ellenbecker pointed out the average age for a welder has climbed close to 60.

“They’re going to retire soon and there will be panic,” Ellenbecker said. “Employers are seeing the writing on the wall.”

The Manufacturing Institute estimates manufacturers will need 10 million new skilled laborers by 2020, and surveys show 52 percent of American employers have had trouble filling jobs. The institute also expects double digit growth in the demand for electricians, plumbers, construction managers, and heating and cooling specialists in the next several years.

Ellenbecker said a lot of companies tend to blame technical colleges when they can’t find people with the right skills to fill job openings. He applauded Muza, Jay and Oshkosh Corp. for coming together to explain available careers to students, detail the required training and talk about the benefits like the demand for skilled workers and salaries that can start in the $30,000 to $50,000 range.

“Everyone coming through is getting jobs and we keep adding classes and instructors,” Ellenbecker said. “It’s an eye-opener: It’s hard work, but they’ll never be out of work if they’re willing to travel.”

Ellenbecker said he hopes more manufacturers get involved with FVTC and pursue co-ops and partnerships like the one that helped expose him to auto repair as a high school student.

“We need to work on building those relationships with our high schools,” Ellenbecker said. “I’d love to see more manufacturing co-ops between companies and our schools, including Fox Valley Tech.”

Jay Manufacturing President Matt Jameson said Friday’s tour represented only the start of the partners’ effort to build interest in skilled-labor careers.

Jameson said it was good to see all the organizations involved come together, while Ellenbecker said any gains will help.

“If all we’ve done today convinces even five more students to enroll, it’s a success,” Ellenbecker said.

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