Pennsylvania manufacturers look to address skilled-worker shortage

February 29, 2012

Bucks and Montgomery County manufacturers recently met to discuss a key issue that has emerged in their industry: they are facing a looming shortage of highly skilled workers to fill vacant positions, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

"It's a huge problem," Lisa Christman, senior human resources director at the K'nex toy manufacturing company in Hatfield, told the news source.

Christman noted that the average age of employees at her company is higher than most, as a third of the "most important workers" are within 10 years of retirement. She told the Inquirer that experienced toolmakers are hard to find and "a toolmaker takes 10 years to become proficient."

According to the news source, this is not the only specialized area of manufacturing where there is a shortage, as Christman noted that there is a dearth of qualified machinists and setup technicians. This may affect the business strategy for companies in the coming year, as necessary labor is becoming harder and harder to find.

The Inqurier reported that the companies in the area are forming their own grassroots group – the Bux-Mont Manufacturing Consortium – to address the issue of a looming shortage of skilled manufacturing employees. The group is focused on finding a talent pipeline and to review the existing training funding and availability that is offered by government workforce investment boards.

This comes at a time of high unemployment, and it is shocking that there are not qualified candidates to fill the open positions, where even the lowest paid at the K'nex employee makes $1,100 a week with overtime.

"What we have to do is make sure that manufacturing jobs are attractive to parents, teachers and students," Christman told the news source.

However, a consortium has emerged to address the problem in the region, as the Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC) has been networking to explore the possibilities of a training program aimed at teaching basic manufacturing skills. According to the Inquirer, the DVIRC is a partially government-funded group set up to aid manufacturers with business issues.

This effort hopes to address the gap in qualified workers and open positions in the sector, which, according to The Wall Street Journal, has a 5 percent vacancy rate. A predicted 600,000 jobs are currently unfilled in the industry.