News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 25, 2013

Jobs are out there — but not enough qualified workers to fill them

Sue Loughlin
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Representatives of industry, education and WorkOne met at Ivy Tech’s Center for Workforce Development last week to talk about one issue: the companies’ need for skilled machinists.

The industries have job openings, but not enough workers to fill them. The group met to talk about ways to meet that need.

It was the second meeting of the machining subcommittee, part of a larger group called the “Advanced Manufacturing Cluster,” which involves six counties.

R. Laurence Cross, general manager of Tri Aerospace LLC, chairs the subcommittee.

“We have a challenge finding skilled workers. We’re trying to figure out ways to get the word out that manufacturing in this area is a very good career path,” he explained.

The foundation of those careers is built early on, something on which the group is focused. They are seeking the answer to one overriding question: “How do we get students involved in it so we can grow them into employees in the future?”

Tri Aerospace makes jet turbine engine components.

Part of the problem, Cross believes, is that young people don’t want to go into manufacturing because of old stereotypes that manufacturing is a dirty industry.

“It’s not that way anymore at all. If you come to a lot of these shops, they are really nice places to work,” he said.

The goal of the subcommittee is “to get the word out that manufacturing is a great career path and that we need to introduce children, students, young people and their parents to this industry,” Cross said.

During the meeting, he talked about the importance of partnering with educational institutions and working with guidance counselors to let them know about the opportunities that exist.

He also pointed out that the existing workforce is getting older, making it all the more important to recruit younger people.

In a follow-up interview, he said that students who pursue machining programs at Terre Haute North Vigo, South Vigo and West Vigo high schools can be hired right out of high school to work at Tri Aerospace, where the average pay for machinists is about $18 an hour.

“If they have the beginning skills, we’ll work with them to provide the skills we need,” Cross said.

Doug Dillion, Vigo County School Corp. director of career-technical education, said the needs go beyond machining to advanced manufacturing overall. He believes the problem is “reaching critical mass.”

“It’s really becoming tough on industry. If they can’t find qualified people, we won’t keep them,” Dillion said. “I’ve had several [industry representatives] sit in my office and tell me that.”

The Vigo County School Corp. has invested in machines and equipment needed to train students for today’s high-tech jobs, but it is costly and smaller districts may not have those resources, he said.

For example, one CNC (computer numerical controlled) machine can run $55,000, and only one student can use it at a time. Several would be needed in a machining lab.

He helped study the needs of school districts in “economic growth region 7,” which consists of Clay, Parke, Putnam, Sullivan, Vermillion and Vigo counties.

It would cost about $10 million over three years to provide equipment and training for school districts in the region, enabling them “to turn out what industry needs” and to prepare students for related post-secondary education programs, Dillion said.

Steve Turner, plant manager at Numerical Concepts, believes that students who have the ability haven’t been encouraged to pursue advanced manufacturing career paths, including machining, in high school.

But if they do, and have a good skill level, “They can make as much money with a high school diploma as a college degree,” Turner said.

Subcommittee members have discussed different ways to help recruit more students into the field: attending school open houses; providing internships to teachers to give them a better understanding of industry needs; providing schools with examples of products made at these industries; and conducting a summer youth camps to introduce machining career pathways.

Martin Nagy, CTE machine tool teacher at Terre Haute North, has had success in trying to generate interest in machining. This year, 70 students have taken introductory classes.

“To me, it’s all about exposure. This stuff is so cool and so fun,” Nagy said. Some will be interested in pursuing it as a career path, and others won’t, but “unless they try it, they’ll never know.”

Lisa Lee, executive director of WorkOne for Western Indiana, said the agency plans to have a monthly electronic newsletter to highlight careers related to New and Emerging Advanced Technology.

It will have videos of people who do these advanced manufacturing jobs and it will address misconceptions about advanced manufacturing.

The newsletter also will highlight regional businesses where these careers can be found, as well as related secondary and post-secondary education.

The newsletter, which could start as early as next month, will be linked to the WorkOne website, www.workonewest.com.

People don’t know what is happening within the walls of local industries, she said. “A lot of aerospace and defense work goes on here and people don’t realize it,” she said in a follow-up interview.

Cross added, “We do some pretty neat stuff in this area.”

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.