Statesman Journal: http://www.statesmanjournal.com/story/opinion/readers/2016/03/07/manufacturers-solve-hiring-challenges-look-within/81448652/
For years now, Oregon manufacturers have bemoaned the difficulty of finding workers with the skills their companies need to compete in a global economy.
They’ve blamed high schools — and the OregonLegislature that funds them — for cutting career and technical education that once provided a pipeline of job-ready graduates. And they’re right. But that’s not the whole story.
It’s time for manufacturers to ask themselves: What can we do, in our companies, to solve the problem? Leaders from more than 100 Oregon companies will tackle that question on Monday, March 14, in Salem at the 2016 Oregon Manufacturers’ Summit.
Our state relies on these hard-working makers to power our export-based economy and to provide family-wage jobs. Yet they struggle to hire new workers with the advanced manufacturing, production and metal fabrication skills that such jobs demand. More than ever, it’s up to manufacturers to change their own cultures, in order to attract the workers they want and “train up” the employees they have.
Oregon has plenty of role models for creating this change, including A.R.E. Manufacturing in Newberg, a maker of machine components that employs 60 Oregonians. Company leaders spent months redefining skill sets for employees, to provide clearer pathways to good-paying careers. Their approach to internal training has built trust among employees, who can be more confident that the company’s increasing profitability will pay off for them, too.
Speaking of building trust, let’s be slower in manufacturing to lay people off. A worker who fears he’ll lose his job at any moment is less likely to learn the new skills that will help his company grow. Yet I know of companies where, if orders dip even a bit in a given week, the pink slips are coming next.
Sometimes cuts are unavoidable. Too often, they are the default choice — more so in manufacturing than other workplaces.
Lastly, let’s stop pushing back against every progressive idea that gives workers a leg up. Manufacturers hurt themselves when they automatically reject any proposal to raise the minimum wage or offer paid sick leave.
The software industry, in contrast, is famous for perks that show job-seekers that companies care about their well-being. Oregon manufacturers may not be able to provide gourmet lunches and gym memberships, but we will attract more of the best and brightest if we show a willingness to make their lives better.
None of these changes will be easy or quick. The Oregon manufacturers I work with already put their livelihoods on the line every day to build things that matter.
Yet the outlook for manufacturing is brightening. Increases in U.S. productivity, combined with increasing wages overseas, means fewer jobs are moving offshore. In Oregon, lawmakers have begun to pump more money into job training in high schools, although it will take a few years before those investments yield a steady stream of job-ready graduates.
In the meantime, Oregon manufacturers can’t afford to do nothing while other industries attract the skilled workers they need. Change must start with us.
Chris Scherer of Lake Oswego is president of the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership (OMEP), a not-for-profit that helps small and medium-sized manufacturing companies respond to the challenges of competing in a global economy. He can be reached at CScherer@omep.org.