A tight labor market and a lack of young people pursuing careers in the trades is causing local employers to scramble to find workers for jobs.
“We have positions open now that we cannot fill,” said Finch Paper Co. Chief Financial Officer Alex Rotolo.
Rotolo cited a variety of factors, including a tight labor market and a lack of available workers.
“There’s strong companies like Finch that are constantly looking for good employees, but you don’t have people moving into the area,” he said.
His company has employees who have worked for 30, 40 and even 50 years.
“It’s hard to replace people like that. It’s hard to find people willing to be that dedicated to their job and want to grow with the company,” he said.
“In general, people are bouncing more between jobs. And they can right now,” he added.
Finch is not alone in looking for skilled workers.
There were about 360 job openings in construction and excavation and installation, maintenance and repair in the Capital Region, according to a recent search of the state Department of Labor’s website.
Finding skilled workers has been a challenge for many years for Ronald Richards, owner and chief executive officer of the Moreau-based Rasp, which makes industrial controller equipment. Richards attributed the problem partly to changes in high school curriculums.
“When I went to high school, we had wood shop, metal shop, electrical shop and small engine repair. I took all of those,” he said. “In the school I went to, they no longer exist. They’re all gone.”
His company looks for people with electrical skills and who are generally handy, according to Richards.
“We can do a lot of training and we can teach people the trade. They just need the basic skills when they walk in the door, but that’s not always there,” he said.
Richards said there are BOCES programs available to teach trade skills, but he does not believe they are as accepted.
“The big push has been college,” he said.
There is a stigma out there if you do not have a degree. “We need those people, too, but we need both sides,” he said.
Richards said he is trying to be proactive by hosting career fairs and has invited students from SUNY Adirondack’s Early College Career Academy to tour his facility.
“I’m trying to be more involved in the community — get the word out that sending kids for trades is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing,” he said.
Trades people can make a very good living, Richards said.
The average salary for skilled trades in New York is about $46,538, according to ZipRecruiter.com.
Despite this data, there has been a cultural rejection of people who work with their hands, according to Heather Briccetti, president and chief executive officer of the Business Council of New York.
Briccetti told people at a recent economic development breakfast an anecdote about her son’s friend, who said he was in an apprenticeship welding program. She said it was good news, but the youth said his parents were ticked at his career choice.
“I said, ‘They’ll get over it when you get your first paycheck,’” she said.
Briccetti said there has been a lot of focus on raising the minimum wage, but fast food jobs, for example, are not long-term careers.
“Automation will get rid of those jobs, and then they’ll be back to being unemployed,” she said.
The trades are a viable alternative to college, Briccetti added.
“A philosophy degree is a great thing, but you can’t think about welding. You have to actually do it,” she said.
Revising training programs
The Business Council is trying to compile a list of job-training programs that will be on its website in the next few months. She cited a good program in Schenectady in which students who dropped out of high school are taught construction skills.
Some people say the problem goes beyond finding skilled workers, and is more about finding dedicated workers.
“Most of the businesses around here are willing to train workers,” said Michael Bittel, president and chief executive officer of the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce. “It’s tough to find people, and people that are committed to a career as opposed to a job. We have so many great career opportunities.”
Bittel said the problem is young people graduate and move out of the area because they do not think they can find opportunities locally.
However, he said that is changing. Local high schools are linking up with businesses and seniors in high school are able to get internships.
The chamber is working with local high schools and BOCES and its members to expand internship and training programs, which could lead to future jobs, according to Bittel.
He said it is important to train the next generation of workers.
“You have a number of people who have been in their jobs for many years, skilled labor jobs that are on the cusp of retirement. Those need to be filled too,” he said.
It is also important to retain young people locally, according to Bittel.
EDC Warren County President Edward Bartholomew said the Miller Mechanical Services owner Elizabeth Miller has to go to Pennsylvania to find welding school graduates.
Bartholomew said the drop in unemployment occurred faster than anyone had anticipated.
Companies need to think of new ways to attract talent than just job fairs and open houses, which have not worked.
Business leaders have to communicate with each other and have to work with schools to develop curriculum.
“I think we really have to address this is in more rapid fashion than we have been collectively,” he said. “On one hand it’s a pleasant problem to have, except if you’re in charge of getting products out.”
Flomatic Corp. Chief Executive Officer Bo Andersson said he has not had trouble finding talent.
He has been fortunate to find talented employees in the Glens Falls area who have stayed with him awhile. He said it is about finding the right person.
“They key thing for us is finding an employee with a right attitude,” he said. “We can train anybody.”