It may seem odd to hear of a shortage in manufacturing workers following a decade which saw a nearly 25% decline in the number of manufacturing jobs available in Arkansas, but that is exactly what is facing existing manufacturers in the state today.
To combat the shortage, businesses and Arkansas Manufacturing Solutions, a program of the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority that works with organizations to bring resources to Arkansas manufacturers, are partnering to host the state’s second Manufacturing Day event on Oct. 4.
Marketing Manager Andy Capel of AMS said highlighting the needs of Arkansas manufacturers was important if the state is to turn around the shortage of available skilled manufacturing workers.
“The goal is to plant the seed now for (students) as (they) are making decisions to find out what are some (career) options for them,” he said. “These guys are machinists, but they’re really just computer guys. They’re not really running drill presses like they used to be. It’s giving the youth the information they need to know.”
With the jobs now found in factories requiring a different skill set from the jobs held by this generation’s mothers and fathers, companies have had to take different approaches to filling positions.
Human Resources Partner Zoë Lambert of Cameron Valves in Little Rock said her company has had to take the extreme step of going out of state to fill some positions.
But she is hoping that can change following the company’s involvement with Arkansas Manufacturing Day on Oct. 4. On that day, the plant will host not only a tour of the facility but also a demonstration for central Arkansas high school students and the public.
“We wanted young people to realize there is opportunity in manufacturing from engineering to the shop floor,” she said. “We want them to realize its impact.”
Cameron Valves has also taken the step of partnering with vocational programs in the Little Rock area to prepare potential workers for a career in manufacturing.
“You need certain skill sets for certain positions,” she said. “Machinists have to pass an exam to qualify to be an employee here. And assemblers need to pass a logic exam. You need the skill set, but we’re also looking for strong employees that are well-rounded.”
Capel said while young people may have misconceptions about what it is that manufacturing employees do, they also do not fully understand how good a manufacturing job with a basic vocational education can be financially.
“A machinist for Cameron Valve is looking at a $45,000 to $65,000 a year job. Many people have an old perception of a manufacturing job as hot, dirty and you don’t get paid well to do it. But as far as learning specific skills they need, that’s what we’re in need of.”
Lambert said in addition to “very competitive” wages, employees can also expect an excellent benefits package and tuition reimbursement should they choose to further their education while employed with the company.
In addition to Cameron Valves, other manufacturers taking part in Arkansas Manufacturing Day include Molex of Maumelle, Nice-Pak of Jonesboro and Rockline Industries of Springdale.
“Arkansas Manufacturing Day is our push to bring appreciation to the manufacturers of Arkansas for what they produce and a general awareness of it,” Capel said. “A lot of them just do their thing and keep going and are not even known to be out there.”
Capel said the Oct. 4 event, which coincides with the national Manufacturing Day event, is just the start of addressing the need for more manufacturing workers as more and more companies make the decision to bring manufacturing positions back to the United States. For decades, outsourcing to countries like China has resulted in manufacturing jobs in Arkansas totaling just 154,300 in June 2013 versus a sector high of 247,300 in Feb. 1995, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“The federal government is pushing hard for manufacturing and re-shoring with Walmart. And Walmart just had their big manufacturing summit in Florida to try to re-shore,” he said. “I think there is a big effort across the board and looking at Arkansas, manufacturing is one of the major employers in Arkansas and one of the backbones of income – agriculture and manufacturing being the big ones there. Manufacturing is a way to grow companies and have a more diverse workforce.”
Lambert said her company is trying to prepare for what is already a need and will only increase as more work is on-shored to the state.
“Building this partnership with the vo-tech schools will curb that (shortage). But I’m thinking when they finish their vo-tech school, they are going to be targeting that exact skill set we’re looking for. That will work really well focusing on exactly what (our needed) skill set will be,” she said. “There are also some great partnerships to recruit some great people here and we expect to start seeing an impact within about a year.”