October 10, 2012

Manufacturers search for skilled workforce

Regional businesses talk jobs, potential employees


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Manufacturing jobs are available in the North Country, but the skilled workforce to fill them is lacking.

Clinton Community College President John Jablonski provided opening remarks at a National Manufacturing Day event at Clinton Community College. 

“There are today, in the United States, 600,000 unfilled jobs in manufacturing,” he said.

Jablonski said people need to get the word out that those jobs provide a good salary and respectable work. Colleges and universities are an important part of filling the spots because they are more technical than in the past, he said.


CITEC Business Solutions Business Adviser Debi Pettit said studies show 67 percent of manufacturers report a moderate to severe shortage of available qualified workers, and 56 percent expect that to get worse in the next three to five years. She said a North Country Workforce Investment Board survey found educators considered 28 percent of high-school graduates workforce ready, but only 18 percent of employers said they were.

One effort to address that is the North Country Empire STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Learning Network. Workforce Investment Board Director of Special Projects Michele Armani said they want to get a team of teachers to use hands-on, inquiry-based projects to help students acquire the skills. Another project is to get employers to bring their expertise into classrooms for the same purpose.


Some local employers provided details of what they look for in an employee and the challenges they face in that search during a panel discussion. Several said soft skills are critically important.

Lee Ann Pray, head of human resources at Swarovski Lighting in Plattsburgh, said one of the most important skills is also one of the easiest to master, just show up and do what’s asked of you. If you can do that, they can teach you the rest of what they need. 

Brian Hughes, human resources adviser at Bombardier Transportation in Plattsburgh, said it is critical to the successful operation of their assembly lines that people be at work on time. Safety is also another key component of the operation, he said.

“Each assembler is a key to our production,” he said.


Patrick Donahue, manufacturing manager at Fujitsu Frontech in Plattsburgh, which manufactures point-of-sale equipment such as self-check-out scanners, said it obviously helps if someone has technology skills. That would include knowledge of best-practices programs such as the Toyota Production System.

Tim Boshart, operations manager at Georgia-Pacific in Plattsburgh, said they focus on building a collaborative team of employees, people with virtue. The first three attributes they look for in an applicant are integrity, humility and respect.

“If you’re not a good person, we don’t want you,” he said.


Some of the companies are already seeing the effect on the workforce as baby boomers reach retirement age. Christopher Bazan, instrument and electrical training coordinator at International Paper in Ticonderoga, said they are hiring 20 to 30 people a month just to keep up with attrition rates.

Several of the companies have a large international presence. Once an employee gets a foot in the door, the opportunity to grow and work in locations around the world are almost endless.

Pray said Swarovski has 28,000 employees worldwide.

“When you join us, you have the opportunity to go anywhere in the world where Swarovski exists,” she said.

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