Owners discuss issues, needs

ALPENA – Staff of Michigan Works, along with a group of manufacturing business owners and educational leaders, gathered Thursday for a roundtable meeting to find a way to work more closely together to improve the local applicant pool.

The business owners voiced their concern about the lack of qualified skilled trade workers available to them and explained some of the challenges they face when they need to hire, including few if any of the people who apply for the positions meet the company’s needs.

Discussion also focused on if local students are being properly trained in school to pursue a career in trade manufacturing and if the industry in general is promoting and reaching out to future employees as well as it should.

Randy Patterson, who owns and manages Air Devices Company, said he has been advertising for more than five weeks to find a person familiar with common tools and machines in his shop. He said he has had many interviews and gave some perspective employees a chance to show him their skills, but all came up short. He said school cuts have left most without trade classes and it is showing in the workforce.

“I can’t put my finger on one thing as to why there is such a small pool of qualified applicants. I do think kids are being steered more toward the health care profession or more the white collar careers,” Patterson said.”That and I don’t think anyone wants to work. That would mean they would actually have to show up and do something. I think it starts at a young age and people have just lost their work ethic.”

Patterson said he is shorthanded in the shop and the work often will fall on him, because he is the owner and his reputation is attached to his business.

“You have to work 14 to 16 hours a day,” Patterson said. “As a privately owned business, that is what you have to do. You step up, you take care of the customers that are expecting their product, and in the meantime you interview people and waste your time doing that. You learn as you do it all.”

Brian VanWormer, corporate representative for Employment Services, Inc., said the key to having a talented work pool is having the workers trained early in their employment career and reaching out to them before they have made a career choice. He said things are so bad many companies are settling for workers who may not be qualified, but can be counted on to work hard and be dependable.

“They are looking for someone who is ambitious and motivated, has a desire to work to earn a good living in this area,” VanWormer said. “It is not as much about qualifications as it was, but about ambition and drive.”

Michigan Works Business Services Coordinator Terry Basel said she believed the meeting was a good thing for everyone who took part. She said by communicating with one another it will help to find a solution to the problem and find ways to ensure the workers in future generations have the skills employers need.

“Today was set up for us to find facts. We wanted to find out what their talent needs are and what they are missing on the applicants they are seeing now,” Basel said. “We want to know what we can do to help them find the talent they need. Once we know their needs we can educate the community, as well as the communities around Alpena to draw talent here.

“The participation was great and we spent the first hour and a half just listening to the employers share their needs. Now we can begin to work together to get them the people they need.”

More meetings are expected to take place and more solutions and direction discussed, though none are scheduled right now.

Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at sschulwitz@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review … at www.thealpenanews.com