Like businesses in every industry in the United States, local businesses are struggling to find skilled non-academic workers to fill jobs.
“We have 170 employees, and we are currently short of 22 people. We could add 22 positions right now,” said Gary Flannery, general manager of Washington Auto Mall.
Flannery was one of a dozen local business leaders who were panelists at the Southwestern Pennsylvania Skills Gap Forum, held Tuesday in BizTown at the Junior Achievement of Southwestern Pennsylvania headquarters. in Bridgeville.
The forum’s goal was to connect regional school district superintendents with local business leaders to explore the growing gap between Southwestern Pennsylvania employers and skilled workers, and how schools, businesses and public organizations can partner to attract and train high school students – the next generation of workers.
During the event, business leaders shared the challenges their businesses are facing as the labor shortage worsens for blue-collar workers.
The forum was a collaboration between the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, Junior Achievement, Penn Commercial Business and Technical School, Southwest Training Services Inc., and Washington Greene County Job Training Agency Inc.
Amy Gatts, director of the Southwest Corner Workforce Development Board, told attendees that many of the region’s most in-demand occupations are skilled positions, but the labor pool is not meeting those needs due to, among other things, the aging skilled workers. Workforce.
“We have a ‘silver tsunami’ as we speak. People are leaving the workforce and not enough people are coming in,” said Gatts, who stressed the importance of connecting secondary schools to local employers.
Allegheny Technologies Inc. (ATI) in Washington, which has more than 70 job openings, has felt the impact.
“It’s a real challenge right now,” Scott Armstrong said. “The number of people who have retired in the last five to ten years is significant.”
Nicole Lane, director of Penn Commercial’s campus in Washington County, which offers 13 programs in technical trades and careers, said the school is regularly contacted by employers looking for candidates for positions in fields ranging from HVAC and welding to phlebotomy and cosmetology, but there are not enough workers to meet the demand.
“We have companies contacting us all the time to recruit, but we don’t have enough students to place because they are all placed. We have a 100% placement rate for the CVC program for the next two years. HVAC companies call us for graduates; we don’t have anyone to send them,” Lane said. “For electricians right now, it’s booming.”
Students in the 12-week phlebotomy program are hired as soon as they pass their certification exam, Lane said. Graduates of the six-week CDL training program also immediately enter employment, and employers pay bonuses that cover the cost of the program.
Two factors contributing to the shortage of skilled workers, say superintendents and employers, are the perception that jobs in the trades are inferior to those that require a college degree – something Mike Rowe, host of the show “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” calls “a kind of career consolation prize” — and high school students are unaware of the skilled trades careers available.
Jeff Kotula, president of the Washington County Chamber of Commerce, said, “There’s a perception that if you’re smart, you go to college and if you’re not, you go to a school. professional, and that is wrong. This is the perception that we need to start changing, both as educators and as business leaders.
Part of the message employers wanted to get across is that these are not low-paying, “hands-messy” blue-collar jobs like in the past.
“One thing about techs that has changed dramatically is the old image of a fat monkey. Here we go,” Flannery said, noting that auto technicians need to stay on top of their skills as technology advances.
He noted that several of the company’s technicians earn six-figure salaries.
“(The technicians) earn a lot of money to be able to raise a family; they can live comfortably and enjoy a good life,” Flannery said.
Erikka Storch, executive director of Project BEST, a labour-management organization in the construction industry, said it was important to “change the narrative” and encourage high school students to explore trades.
While the “American dream” has long been seen as a four-year college degree, trades are increasingly becoming an option as the cost of a college education continues to far exceed the earnings of workers with a bachelor’s degree.
Over the past 25 years, for example, tuition at Penn State University has increased by 250%, while the median income of a college graduate has increased by 47%, as student loan debt has exceeded 1, $75 billion, according to Forbes.
Fred Morecraft, superintendent of the Carmichaels Area School District in Greene County, said school districts are working to create more career paths for students.
“I think schools are improving in this area. One of the things we’re pushing is that not all kids go to college, and that’s okay,” Morecraft said.
Increasingly, companies facing skill shortages are forming their own new labor pools.
ABARTA Coca-Cola Beverages, which employs 350 people at its Houston site, has struggled to fill CDLA driver positions, so it pays for CDLA training for employees – part of the ‘learn and learn’ model. adopted by a growing number of companies.
“Over the past few years, we’ve seen skills gaps come into play in many positions,” said Brittany Bennett, human resources director at ABARTA, noting how computerized beverage dispensers have become.
As part of the earn and learn philosophy, high school graduates who are hired at ABARTA can earn $18 per hour and train for higher paying positions.
“We love the brand (Coca-Cola) and we would like to grow Coca-Cola for generations to come. We certainly know that high school students currently waiting for jobs are the perfect pipeline for us to do that,” Bennett told superintendents. “We have a lot of opportunities…and we absolutely want to be able to work with you to find places for individuals.”
It has also been difficult for the Washington health system to hire and retain staff due to a shortage of qualified applicants in the region.
The health system, which employs about 2,000 workers, has about 260 vacancies.
It’s ‘unheard of’ for Washington’s health care system, said Barbara McCullough, vice president of human resources at WHS, where at one point employees accepted part-time positions while they waited to open. of a full-time position.
“Our difficulty in filling positions runs the gamut,” McCullough said. “There’s no doubt that in healthcare, I can find a job for every student you have and make them feel successful and productive.”
She said most entry-level positions pay more than $16 an hour and offer overtime, shift premiums and an excellent benefits package.
The hospital has developed phlebotomy-in-training and physician assistant-in-training “earn to learn” programs, and provides 100% tuition coverage for employees to attend the WHS School of Nursing.
“I will pay 100% for people to go to nursing school and they will come out earning $30 an hour, plus shift premium, plus overtime, and not have a single student loan. Which of you wouldn’t accept this deal? McCullough asked, earning appreciative laughs from the audience. “I have a lot of offers like this. I’m ready to make a deal.