|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
Factory owners have been adding jobs slowly but steadily since the beginning of the year, giving a lift to the fragile economic recovery. And because they laid off so many workers — more than two million since the end of 2007 — manufacturers now have a vast pool of people to choose from.
Yet some of these employers complain that they cannot fill their openings.
Plenty of people are applying for the jobs. The problem, the companies say, is a mismatch between the kind of skilled workers needed and the ranks of the unemployed.
As unlikely as it would seem against this backdrop, manufacturers who want to expand find that hiring is not always easy. During the recession, domestic manufacturers appear to have accelerated the long-term move toward greater automation, laying off more of their lowest-skilled workers and replacing them with cheaper labor abroad.
Now they are looking to hire people who can operate sophisticated computerized machinery, follow complex blueprints and demonstrate higher math proficiency than was previously required of the typical assembly line worker.
Makers of innovative products like advanced medical devices and wind turbines are among those growing quickly and looking to hire, and they too need higher skills.
“That’s where you’re seeing the pain point,” said Baiju R. Shah, chief executive of BioEnterprise, a nonprofit group in Cleveland trying to turn the region into a center for medical innovation. “The people that are out of work just don’t match the types of jobs that are here, open and growing.”
The increasing emphasis on more advanced skills raises policy questions about how to help low-skilled job seekers who are being turned away at the factory door and increasingly becoming the long-term unemployed. This week, the Senate reconsidered but declined to extend unemployment benefits, after earlier extensions raised the maximum to 99 weeks.
The Obama administration has advocated further stimulus measures, which the Senate rejected, and has allocated more money for training. Still, officials say more robust job creation is the real solution.
But a number of manufacturers say that even if demand surges, they will never bring back many of the lower-skilled jobs, and that training is not yet delivering the skilled employees they need.
All candidates at Ben Venue must pass a basic skills test showing they can read and understand math at a ninth-grade level. A significant portion of recent applicants failed, and the company has been disappointed by the quality of graduates from local training programs. It is now struggling to fill 100 positions.