by Phil Yacuboski
With the uptick in the economy and lower unemployment, many companies are finding it difficult to find the employees they need to fill out their workforce.
At General Dynamics Plant in Eynon, Frank Fata, director of plant operations, said the company is having difficulty finding experienced CNC (computer numeric controlled) machinists.
“The lack of a CNC machinist is a common problem,” said Fata, “as we are experiencing exponential growth in our manufacturing base. We don’t seem to attract newbies to the industry. What was years ago, a bit and smelly and not so easy, is today very much different.”
Fata said the machinery has evolved ‘ten-fold’ over the past few decades.
“They (the machine operators) have to be tech-savvy and work in a clean environment,” he said.
While he declined to provide specifics on how many people they were looking for, he said General Dynamics has partnered with Johnson College for a three-month training course. Upon completion of the course, more education is provided to help the student and new employee advance in their career.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates entry-level jobs can pay as high as $43,000 per year, with room for advancement.
A competitive economy is making it tough for some employers to find workers.
“We have nearly 2,000 jobs available in Lackawanna County right now,” said Bob Durkin, president and CEO of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce. “Just in the last 30 days, we’ve received 600 to 700 jobs were posted. And that’s just CareerLink.”
The latest unemployment number for Lackawanna County is at 4.8 percent.
“Not everyone posts their jobs either,” said Durkin. “Everywhere you go, companies are posting jobs on places like billboards and other signage to get workers.”
He said he’s personally met with at least 15 different companies in the past two months regarding the employment situation.
“Every single one of them is looking for people,” he said. “The challenge isn’t our economy. The biggest challenge is how do we sustain out existing workforce. There’s definitely a skills gap.”
The lack of skilled workers is a problem not only in Pennsylvania, but is part of a national picture that some argue is not pretty. A 2015 report by the Manufacturing Institute (part of the National Association of Manufacturers) said as many as two million manufacturing jobs ‘could go unfilled’ by 2025.
“It goes from skills to soft skills,” said Durkin. “People have to have some sort of STEM education or an advanced degree. If we aren’t delivering from a secondary and post-secondary perspective and people aren’t ready, that’s the challenge. It’s a workforce issue.”
Only 13 percent of the U.S. is employed in STEM jobs, according to a 2018 study from Pew Research. Those in the survey were asked why they did not choose a STEM career and most said ‘time and cost’ were barriers.
“We’ve been working with our industrial and manufacturing sectors in several areas to identify places of need and all of our employers have addressed concerns over the need of a workforce,” said Amy Luyster, vice-president of the Scranton Chamber of Commerce. “It’s across the board.”
She said many companies are even revamping their facilities to attract workers by adding gyms, gaming facilities and marketplaces for employees to grab a quick snack.
Luyster said the Chamber has also recruited educators to place them in the workforce to transfer that knowledge back to a high school classroom.
“They are taking what they learn in the field and using it to put together a curriculum,” she said. “It brings the business into the classroom and it’s a way to draw awareness and to build a pipeline from the school to the workforce.”