Robert Crane of Crane Consumables talks to students from Edgewood High School about careers with his company during a Career Showcase as part of the the Chamber of Commerce serving Middletown, Monroe & Trenton All American Business & Careers Expo, Thursday, March 23 at Miami University Middletown. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Manufacturing industry growth tempered by challenges

There’s been six-consecutive months of expansion for the manufacturing industry as its closely-watched gauge of factory activity spiked to its highest level since August 2014, according to data from the Institute for Supply Management.

But even with production lines expanding and the amount of jobs on the the rise, local manufacturing company officials say the industry struggles to find qualified candidates.

“We have ‘Now Hiring’ signs posted outside all the time and we’re just struggling to find applicants,” according to Brian Hale, human resources manager for Fairfield-based Pacific Manufacturing Ohio, which specializes in automotive stamping and plastic injection molding.

That struggle among entry level manufacturing positions is dealing with a high rate of turnover “because everybody’s competing for people,” he said.

“A lot of applicants might come in and work for a couple of days and leave and try something else,” Hale said. “There’s constant turnover at the entry level that you’re always having to replenish.”

Having a high rate of turnover at the entry level means training and education takes much longer, he said.

“You might invest a bunch of time in training and educating somebody and then they leave and you’ve got to start the process all over,” Hale said.

Two of the biggest challenges facing the manufacturing industry are investing in facilities to meet demand and ensuring “the best and brightest young minds” see a future in a career in advanced manufacturing, according to Fabian Schmahl, president and CEO of thyssenkrupp Bilstein of America Inc. in Hamilton.

“To meet those challenges, we have invested more than $26 million to expand our best-in-class facilities in Hamilton,” Schmahl said. “We are also very conscious of the need to attract and retain talented individuals in manufacturing. In fact, it is critical to our success.”

With that in mind, the company stays active in the local community, working with universities to recruit and offer scholarships to students.

“This work helps promote and further interest in the field of logistics and supply chain management among the future workforce right here in Ohio,” Schmahl said.

Middletown Tube Group and parent company Phillips Tube Group are poised for growth and have significant manufacturing capabilities, but hiring is “the main issue” affecting efforts to move forward, said Dusty Lepper, director of human resources.

“We could be a little bit stronger and have more employees, bring in more sales, (but) right now we just need to find good, capable employees,” he said. “The main issue we’re having is the aptitude of new hires. We do aptitude tests, mathematics and mechanical aptitude and we’re seeing some of the average grades on those tests dwindle or falter a little bit.”

Also, high school students and recent graduates aren’t focused on a job in manufacturing, employers said.

“Everybody’s kind of focused on furthering their education, going to secondary education such as college, and that’s one thing we try to differentiate ourselves and try to make sure they understand that, in working for us, we have a very aggressive tuition reimbursement program,” Lepper said.

“If they come and gain employment with us, they can work, earn money as they go and we’ll actually pay for the college education,” he said.

It also doesn’t help that public high schools focus less these days than in years past on vocational skills, including those that could be learned in wood shop or metal shop.

“Some of those natural skills aren’t developed and then some of that natural interest isn’t developed in those students (who otherwise would have taken) wood shop or metal shop,” Lepper said.

Mike Scott, president of Pilot Chemical Company said the ability to feed the company’s staffing pipeline is one of the reasons his company turned out for a career showcase that was part of an All America Expo Business & Careers event held Thursday by the Chamber of Commerce Serving Middletown, Monroe & Trenton.

“It’s an industry that still continues to have very solid growth and opportunity for people to work and have a career in, but it’s one of the industries that we need to continue to bring focus to,” Scott said.

Manufacturing is one of few high-tech industries that doesn’t require a a four-year college degree, according to Christopher Leedy, Pilot’s vice president of manufacturing and engineering.

“They think they’re just on an assembly line packing boxes, but … in chemical manufacturing, it’s pretty high-tech and you can make a great career out of it,” he said.

Monroe-based Deceuninck North America, a fully integrated design, compounding, tooling, and PVC extrusion company that produces energy-efficient PVC window and door systems, employs 493 people, with 465 of them in Monroe and 28 in a Fernley, Nev., facility that opened last October.

Filip Geeraert, the company’s president and CEO, said the job market is “very competitive” in the Monroe area and that his company looks for employees who have some mechanical aptitude and cultivate a curiosity of how things work.

“We also find that our employees enjoy the rhythm of a manufacturing job, which creates opportunity for time off during daylight hours to take care of their personal needs,” Geeraert said. “Manufacturing jobs provide a different structure and, in some ways, more freedom than a traditional 9-to-5 office job.”

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