Where are the workers? It's no secret that a workforce shortage in the manufacturing industry is having major impact. And the COVID-19 pandemic only made things worse. Talk to any manufacturer across Northwest Ohio or the country and they'll probably tell you this remains one of the top issues that keep them up at night.

Many say they're growing weary of hearing and talking about the problem. They say they're ready to do something about it. It's estimated that over the next ten years, American manufacturers will need to fill 3.5 million jobs, but due to the skilled labor shortage, 2 million of those jobs are expected to go unfilled.

This guide is designed to offer resources, ideas, information and contacts that we believe will empower manufacturing businesses to work together, and with educators to move the needle when it comes to finding workers with the skills needed. We will share with you knowledge and information gathered from manufacturers, workforce planning officials, educators and young people. We'll share top recommendations from experts on what manufacturers can do now to address this challenge. Our focus is the manufacturing skilled labor shortage in Northwestern Ohio, but these concepts and solutions certainly apply nationwide.

Before we get to solutions, we do need to set the stage. How exactly did we get here?

"The most important action manufacturers can take to help solve the skilled labor shortage is to engage local educators and determine ways to increase student and educator exposure to careers in manufacturing"Ryan D. Burgess
former director
Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation

The Perfect Storm

Many experts agree that several factors have come together in the post-World War II United States, setting the stage for a shortage of skilled workers. You could call it the perfect storm.

  • More emphasis on a four-year college education
  • Less focus on career-technical education
  • Population shift: baby boomers and millennials

Many also argue that manufacturing has an identity crisis, that is, there are many misperceptions about the industry and what it looks like today. Educators often say parents don't want their children to pursue a career in manufacturing because they envision the facilities/factories of their youth: dark, sometimes dirty facilities. In fact, many manufacturing facilities of today are high-tech, well-lit, air-conditioned settings that utilize robotics and other advanced technology. The new manufacturing. But old perceptions of manufacturing persist.

It's not a new problem, either. Career-tech educators will tell you there's been a labor shortage in the skilled trades for decades in the United States.

Ron Matter was the superintendent of Penta Career Center in Perrysburg, Ohio for over a decade. He knows the history of the workforce shortage all too well. Matter was a guest panelist at a May 2017 roundtable event presented by Gilmore Jasion Mahler on the manufacturing skilled labor shortage. Help Wanted: Getting Students and Manufacturers to Speak the Same Language brought together educators, officials, manufacturers, students and parents to talk through the challenges and start to discuss solutions. Here's what Matter said about how we got to this point.

"I think a big piece of how we got here is that I guess kinda since World War II we've pushed the idea that a 4-year degree is the only pathway to success for young people, and it has only gotten worse as we've gotten further removed from that late 1940's, early 1950's timeframe, and I don't say that to denigrate a 4 year degree. But, a 4-year degree that does not lead you into a productive career path, a job where you can make a good wage and have a good career.

One of the things that I ask students ... I talk with students and parents, that maybe they're a freshman, sophomore, junior, or even a senior. Okay, I'm going to X, Y, Z college. What are you going to get a degree in? I'm gonna get it in X. What's the job title at the end of that degree? And that's usually where the deer in the headlights look comes on... Uh, I'm going to get a degree in business... and it's gonna be in... They aren't thinking beyond just the immediate future of what they're gonna do."

Ron Matter refers to what he calls the 1:2:7 ratio to demonstrate why he says we need to shift the way we think about educating our young people.

He explains the ratio this way: for every 1 job requiring a Master's degree or higher there are 2 jobs requiring a Bachelor's degree and 7 jobs requiring technical skills obtained through a certification program or 2-year degree. He says the ratio existed in 1950, 1990 and will continue to exist in 2030.

Source: Success in the New Economy by Kevin Fleming

Some more eye-opening numbers come from a Harvard University study comparing the jobs landscape from 1960 to 2018.

"Stakeholders (employers, educators, local government agencies, students) need to work collectively on identifying both the skillset needed by employers and strategies to better communicate what opportunities are available based on those needs. Employers need to drive this information. The communication needs to be proactive to fill the pipeline years in advance by way of including educators and students beginning at the 7th grade level."Andrea Kramer
Findlay Business Owner
Member of the Ohio Governor's Executive Workforce Board

Experts say another key driver of the labor shortage in manufacturing has to do with the very make-up of our population in this country. The U.S. Census Bureau continues to track the baby boomers' significant impact on our economy. Boomers (typically seen as those born between 1946 and 1964) are entering retirement age. In 2017 they are now between the ages of 53 and 71. As this large age group leaves the workforce, the view held by some is that there will be a gap in industry at the top, only accelerating the workforce challenge now faced by manufacturing companies. Meanwhile, as fewer young people have pursued the skilled trades, there are now less individuals "coming up in the ranks" to replace retiring management and leadership within manufacturing businesses.

Perhaps industry needs to focus not on the boomers, but the younger generations. In 2015 the U.S. Census Bureau reported that millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) now outnumber baby boomers.

The Millennial Factor

During Gilmore Jasion Mahler's May 25, 2017 roundtable event, attendees heard from 22-year-old Andrew Billups, a millennial himself, who graduated from Penta Career Center and moved on to a role as project manager for a small manufacturing firm in Toledo. Billups has a unique perspective on the characteristics of the millennial generation (his generation). He says many millennials are lazy and not "go-getters".

"You have to develop your skills and prove your skills work in the particular setting to actually get the salary you require. A lot of people don't realize that. I think the mentality in my generation is get rich quick. That's also sickening to me. You can't really get rich quick. You need skills to be able to propel yourself forward and be the best you can."Andrew Billups
Penta Career Center Graduate

Andrew referenced developing your skills. The roundtable portion of the Gilmore Jasion Mahler event gave manufacturing executives a chance to discuss with each other what they need in new hires today. The session certainly helped to offer a clear picture of what manufacturing businesses across Northwest Ohio are looking for in terms of skills in young people.

"A lot of things are already done for us in the age we live in. A lot of things are automatic or you just don’t have to do as many things to get something done in the age we live in now, which is a good thing on the surface, but it makes people think everything will be done for them already and that’s not good."Andrew Billups
Penta Career Center Graduate

Soft Skills

Many industry representatives in the room said technical skills are good, but they're especially interested in young people with strong so-called soft skills. Key skills identified by our roundtable attendees include:

  • Team player
  • Problem solver
  • Good communicator
  • Ability to troubleshoot
  • Critical thinker

Other major issues came up as well, such as job candidates being able to pass a drug test, and having transportation to work.

In the Fall of 2016, Hancock County established a nonprofit organization called Raise the Bar Hancock County to address the skilled labor shortage. The nonprofit is a partnership of public, private and government entities established to address Hancock County's unique challenges. Ranked the top micropolitan in the entire country for a third year in a row in 2016 by Site Selection Magazine, Raise the Bar leaders say a strong workforce is critical to meet the needs of businesses making Findlay-Hancock County home.

Now former Executive Director Laurie Zydonik says the organization is addressing both the short term and long term issues, and soft skills are certainly a key piece. The group is working to implement the Leader in Me program into their county schools. It is based on Dr. Stephen Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The program starts long before a young person would be looking to start a career. It actually begins in elementary school.

"This is a large scale project based on the long-term benefit of empowering and developing youth from an early age," she says. "If we can provide the foundation for learning so they are prepared to research, explore and experiment with what they are passionate about, the skills they have become accustomed to (and are now habits) will naturally enhance their growth instead of impeding it. For example: if you have spoken in public since you were in kindergarten, speaking in a meeting at work is not scary, it just feels normal."

The Skills Disconnect

"Get the word out - market themselves to change the perception about manufacturing. If parents understand, maybe they will be more likely to encourage their high school age students to consider a career in manufacturing."Pam Hamlin
Career Tech Coordinator
Millstream Career Center

The special report Building Ohio's Future Workforce issued in December of 2016 by the Ohio Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation provides a comprehensive evaluation of the Ohio workforce shortage. Among the key findings: there's a disconnect between what's being taught in schools and what skills businesses are looking for and need in new hires. A key recommendation in the report is better collaboration and communication between educators and businesses.

Some career technical facilities say there are having success engaging manufacturing businesses as they work together to structure a curriculum that can meet the needs of industry. The superintendent of Four County Career Center in Archbold, Ohio says they drastically changed the way they teach young people.

"We regenerated our manufacturing program by turning it over to our manufacturers. So I brought them in to the lab. They went through and pointed to the machines we should keep. They pointed to the machines we should throw away and we followed them. We redid the lab. We made it so it was cross cultured, meaning that it wasn't just a lab for those kids to come in to a lab, we were going to allow other programs to walk in and get some short term training." Tim Meister
Four County Career Center

Officials with Vanguard-Sentinel Career and Technology Centers, with locations in both Tiffin and Fremont, say they actually go out to businesses and knock on doors looking for involvement from industry. Superintendent Greg Edinger says they've had some success engaging manufacturers.

"One big one I'll tell you is our Precision Machining at our Sentinel facility in Tiffin. National Machinery is so involved. They make sure the equipment is meeting the needs for the industry credentials. And they're there firsthand. If they need 12 students, they get the first 12 because they're right there, just about I'd say once a month probably, just about in the program, seeing what's going on, seeing the kids work. And then their senior year the kids are actually out there working. That is their apprenticeship that whole year."Greg Edinger
Vanguard-Sentinel Career & Technology Centers
"Manufacturers should explore getting involved in existing (or creating new) collaborative efforts with the education system, non-profits and community based groups that are involved in workforce development. This will not only provide them an avenue to share a story about who they are and what they do, but give them a voice to share their needs and promote opportunities that exist with their company. Sitting at the table and being an active participant in developing strategies to address the workforce challenges and promote the importance of skilled labor is essential."Angie Morelock
P.R. and Communications Director
Vanguard-Sentinel Career & Technology Centers

Ohio State Representative Bill Reineke, who represents the 88th District, has been vocal on the workforce challenge in Ohio. He also joined in Gilmore Jasion Mahler's May, 2017 roundtable discussions and agrees that collaboration is key, not only between industry and educators, but also educator to educator.

"We've got to have programs that coincide. So, high school programs have to coincide with the state colleges, with the four-year colleges so, we're working on different programs where the kids can get credits. The goal of the task force: by the year 2025, 65% of people in the state of Ohio between 25 and 64 years old have to have some kind of credential, an Associate's Degree, a four-year degree, and or some other apprenticeship type program."Bill Reineke
Ohio State Representative
88th District

The Cultural Challenge

"We need to change the conversation in this country - at our dinner tables and in our schools - about education and training, both during and after high school. For too many young people the only message they hear in the media, from their peers, from their parents, from their counselors and teachers, and from political leaders is that a four-year degree is the only path to success. At Penta Career Center and across the region we know that belief could not be further from the truth. I believe training beyond high school can and should look different for all adults - depending upon what it is they want to do and what is the training/education to get there." Ron Matter
Former Superintendent
Penta Career Center

Technology is reshaping the manufacturing landscape. Automation and robotics have transformed many manufacturing facilities and will continue to do so for years to come. This is the new manufacturing, but many agree that America is stuck in the past with perceptions.

The Solutions

Collaboration & People Strategy

The Ohio Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation's report Building Ohio's Future Workforce points out perhaps one of the biggest challenges of all. Initiatives to address the skilled labor shortage exist across the state at the regional, county and local levels, which, according to the report, sets up a fragmented, "siloed" approach to the problem. The report's findings suggest that integration and collaboration are the answer. With an emphasis on collaboration, we asked Northwest Ohio manufacturers what they believe they can do now to improve the workforce shortage. They provided many of the same answers and they all revolved around working closely with educators.

Here's what manufacturers identified as actions they can take now:

  • Create mentorships within warehouse/offices
  • Join school advisory boards
  • School collaboration on programming and placement
  • Provide machinery/robotics to schools
  • Get into schools early: elementary and middle school
  • Work to change the perception of manufacturing by showing the type of work, clean facilities
  • Emphasize benefits, retirement, earning opportunities

Toledo Public Schools (TPS) Superintendent Dr. Romules Durant says he would welcome any manufacturing business interested in being on an advisory board to TPS. He says building a relationship with the program and the students is critical and he says he feels strongly that manufacturers need to think not like a business executive, but like a college football coach when it comes to scouting talent.
"We have a young man who is going to Ohio State and I had a conversation with him... Why choose Ohio State? And he said, Coach Meyer is like my best friend. Coach Meyer just got on board six months ago. But what did coach Meyer do within those six months? This young man feels like he's his best friend. I'm gonna choose the occupation to take my football career to Ohio State because of that. Because there were others who were at the door and those who fail to show up at the door more and more are the ones who lost out on that talent. And so we see those same opportunities in industry within our high school sector. Those in industry who sit on our advisory board have the impact of taking out the top tier kids as well as medium tier kids into their programs." Dr. Romules Durant
Toledo Public Schools

One Ohio success story that's been cited for making some headway on the workforce shortage is the industry-led Mahoning Valley Manufacturers Coalition, formed in 2012 when manufacturers came together, pooled resources and established the organization to strengthen the region's workforce. You can learn more about the coalition and its outreach campaign at the link Industry Needs You.

"At Owens, fostering strong relationships with area manufacturers will help ensure that we are providing our students with the best training and skills needed in the ever-changing world of technology."Julie Baker
Executive Director, Findlay Campus
Owens Community College 

Bill Reineke agrees the way to make headway solving the skilled labor shortage is to collaborate. He says partnering with educators is vital and communication is critical.

"They need to know what you need in your employment," he says. "And I know there's a lot of miscommunication out there and my direct conversations with the superintendent of public education in Ohio, you know we have a huge remediation problem and we need to push back on our schools so that they know what we need from the business community, so the advisory groups do work and we strongly suggest them even if it's a small school."

Ohio Revised Code even refers to advisory councils or committees for school systems and the importance of giving businesses input in curriculum to help make sure that young people have the skills needed to enter employment upon graduation.

Penta Career Center longtime superintendent Ron Matter (now retired) also feels strongly about manufacturers having input in the schools and says these businesses can take action now. What are some ways to do that?

"So, one I think is going and knocking on the door of the superintendent or building principal... Hey, when you have a career fair I'd like to have my company represented to talk about the whole array of job opportunities that we have. The second piece, if they have an advisory committee. At Penta Career Center, we have Vanguard Sentinel represented, Greg Edinger's here. There's Superintendent Tim Meister at Four County Career Center. All of us have advisory committees for every one of our career tech programs. We want that input. I try to attend as many as I can. Ed gets there, the supervisors are there, John Rife's one of our supervisors. Marshall Wolf is there from our career services. And they know the question I put out to every advisory committee: Don't tell us what you think we want to hear. Tell us what we need to hear to put out the kind of student that you want to hire at your company." Ron Matter
Former Superintendent
Penta Career Center

Finding the Right People

With concerns about an ongoing skilled labor shortage made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, finding and keeping the right people has become more important than ever. Educators stress the importance of engaging with the career tech education facility in your area on a number of levels.

Career Days

Career days offer a chance to explain what your manufacturing facility is all about and the opportunities available to the workforce of the future.

Summer Camps

Summer camps are a great way to introduce young people to some of the basics of manufacturing and to nurture their interest in STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering/Math) education. Northwest State Community College offers summer manufacturing camps for young people across the state.  

Internships & Apprenticeships

Internships and apprenticeships allow the opportunity to bring students and potential recruits into your facility to see the operation and be a part of your organization. If a formal internship program isn't possible, there are likely other ways to collaborate with your local career tech facility.

Findlay's Cooper Tire has established a program through the Millstream Career Center at Findlay High School. Cooper teaches a class, sharing information about manufacturing and the necessary skills to work at Cooper. Corporate Manager Richard Gobrecht says they also bring the students to a Cooper site where they have the opportunity to meet with people who've worked in manufacturing for years. While the students don't see inside the manufacturing site with their own eyes, the young people do get to see videos of the manufacturing process at Cooper. Gobrecht says it helps them see that you can have a good life in manufacturing. He says he knows that something needs to change and believes that working together is critical.

"We need to ask ourselves, 'What can we do?' We've got to start thinking, 'how can we?' rather than, 'why can't we?' says Gobrecht.

Tours & Open Houses

"The most effective way to combat the workforce shortage in the manufacturing area is for businesses and schools to work together to provide viable pathways to success for students. By creating and showcasing these pathways, a strong diverse workforce can be developed and increased."Tim Meister
Four County Career Center

You may consider bringing young people (and their parents) right into your facility to see for themselves what manufacturing looks like. If you're concerned about protecting trade secrets, think about which parts of your facility people could see on a tour and what would be off limits. Video can be another compelling way to bring people inside your business without them ever setting foot through the front door.

Bill Reineke says he has seen some successes with this type of initiative.

"We've done some different things around the state with showcases. I know in Seneca County and Sandusky County, which is where I'm from, the economic development groups had showcases where they bussed in 800, 900 students," says Reineke. "One was at Sentinel and they were very helpful with that, where the students can experience what the different opportunities are. When you ask a group of students if they know what career tech is or if they'd be interested in that, 6% would say yes. If you tell them that includes robotics, gaming, coding, computers, it goes to 60%."

The Right Stuff

The Right Skills for the Right Job

Custom Training Solutions is a division of Northwest State Community College. David Conover is the director of the program, which is housed at The University Toledo's Scott Park Campus. Conover says they're working to train or retrain many people across the area. Custom Training Solutions offers certificate programs, internships and more programming for those looking for work as well as those who are already employed. Northwest State Community College says it's constantly developing new training programs, like it's so-called hybrid program that offers training for employees in need of flexible work schedules. It's a combination of classroom and online work that Northwest State says often fits in well with peoples busy lives.

Help is also available for free to manufacturers across Northwest Ohio looking for assistance finding good reliable employees. Michael Veh is the Executive Director of the Lucas County Workforce Development Board. He says some of the options for workforce development include:

Embrace Your People

Recruit and Retain Great Team Members

As your manufacturing business works hard to find competent new team members, don't forget to look inward as well. Many manufacturing businesses are also focused on keeping the good people they have. Employee engagement and retention has perhaps never been more important.

Onboarding can also be an opportunity to show a new hire how excited you are to have them join the team, and to help change the misperceptions about the manufacturing industry at the same time. The Superintendent of Vanguard-Sentinel Career & Technology Centers, Greg Edinger, had a success story to share at the 2017 GJM Manufacturing Roundtable from one of Vanguard-Sentinel's manufacturing partners about a fun way to celebrate onboarding a new team member. It ties back in with Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Romules Durant's statement that recruiting for manufacturing should be treated like recruiting for a sports team.

"What the business did was, they wanted to make a big deal out of it," says Edinger. "It was Webster Industries, so what they did, just as you talk about an athlete signing to go to a college, they actually held a signing day at a local restaurant. The paper came, and the next thing was, four center students sign with Webster Industries. The whole article was about what their career was in manufacturing and all that, and that was driven by that same example as yours (referring to Durant's comment), that they could make a big deal out of the kids and the job is actually important. So I thought that was a neat twist to change that image."

In Summary

It seems there are hundreds of localized initiatives underway across the state of Ohio alone, certainly thousands of such initiatives nationwide all working to solve this problem. The clear message from the GJM manufacturing roundtable event: we can't solve this on our own in silos, but if we work together, we can make a difference, and manufacturers can lead the way.

In 2019 Northwest Ohio made a significant stride towards addressing the manufacturing workforce shortage. Manufacturing executives from several area businesses came together to create the Northwest Ohio Manufacturing Alliance (NOMA). NOMA is an endorsed sector partnership through the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association.

Other resources for manufacturers looking for support in addressing the skilled labor challenge can be accessed at the links below:

Gilmore Jasion Mahler's Manufacturing Specialist Team works with manufacturing clients across Northwest Ohio and beyond. Our accounting firm established the Manufacturing & Distribution Financial Executive Roundtable series after we saw a need for local manufacturing financial executives to come together to share challenges and successes. The events are open to manufacturing CFOs and other financial decision makers within manufacturing businesses. They are offered three times a year, and feature guest presenters, panelists and roundtable discussions on critical issues impacting manufacturers. To learn more, or sign up for future invitations, email info@gjmltd.com.

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