When 28 students recently graduated from the precision tool-making program at Butler Tech, they faced an interesting challenge. They were bombarded with more than 100 job offers.
The lack of skilled workers that led to such a demand was highlighted on Friday by a visit to the area from U.S. Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who sat surrounded by area manufacturing leaders during a roundtable discussion on the gap between open jobs and those trained to fill them..
The ongoing, nationwide problem is finally getting the attention it deserves, Portman told the Southwest Ohio industry leaders, but closing the gap remains key to filling chronic shortages in hiring skilled workers for America’s industries.
“As a nation, this is critical to our economic and national security,” Portman told more than a dozen industry executives gathered at the Mason headquarters of Rhinestahl Corporation.
Part of the 21st Century dilemma faced by industrial companies such as Rhinestahl, which manufactures aviation and jet engine tools is the holdover stigma from last century that careers in manufacturing always involve working in “a dirty grimy job,” Portman said.
“We’re looking at another Ohio manufacturer (Rhinestahl) where you can eat off the floor … and that’s not the image a lot people have of manufacturing,” he said.
The stakes are high for both American industries and new workers considering entering its various careers.
Increasingly, industrial jobs are exceeding the annual salaries and benefits of those non-industrial and manual labor jobs that require traditional four-year college degrees, numerous studies have shown.
And overall the starting hourly pay and career-long earnings of industrial and high-tech work can far exceed those in other career tracks, officials said.
“We have a skills gap (and) Ohio employers are struggling to find people with the skills to fill open jobs,” Portman told the group.
Among those at the table was Michael Berding, president of the governing board of Butler Tech, which Portman repeatedly praised as being among the national leaders in aggressively working with area industries in focusing career learning programs to produce graduates skilled and ready to fill jobs.
Berding and other Butler Tech officials thanked Portman for his work in changing laws expanding financing for high school and adult, career school opportunities.
“What we really need from the federal government is to de-regulate education,” Berding told Portman. “And allow us to teach the kids what they need to know to fill the positions.
“We have the kids who want the education, but now its just finding the money.”
The senator talked about his proposed federal legislation that would expand Pell Grant eligibility options to cover high-quality and rigorous short-term job training programs so workers can afford the skills training and credentials employers seek.
Though they weren’t at the meeting, other industry officials in Butler County said they are glad Portman and others are shining a spotlight on the skills gap problem.
Michael Perry, human resources manager for the Monroe branch of steel processing manufacturer Worthington Industries, said “we are trying to get ahead of the skills gap.”
“Not only are we seeing a skills gap but in later years you’ll start to see too many positions going unfilled and not enough people to fill them in part because the boomer generation is retiring,” said Perry, whose local facility employs 192 workers.
Rachel Lawson, a human resource generalist with Worthington, said Butler Tech, which is one of the largest career schools in Ohio, has in recent years worked hard to become a pipeline of skilled workers for area industries.
“We are really encouraged because Butler Tech is really opening the door and taking feedback from the business community,” said Lawson.
Rick Pearce, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe and Trenton, was glad to hear about Portman’s outreach to local industry officials.
“I applaud Senator Portman’s efforts with career technical education,” Pearce said. “The data shows that as a country, we are extremely deficient in individuals with career technical and trade skills. We at the local level encourage Washington and Ohio to review their policies and funding sources and remove some of the barriers to a career technical education.”