The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 10, 2013

Study finds Ashtabula County facing labor shortage

Lack of skills, failure to pass a drug test and reliability in applicants challenge area employers

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA — If statistics gathered by Growth Partnership for Ashtabula County hold true, the county will face a dearth of entry-level workers in the next decade.

On Wednesday, Brian Anderson and Hattie Grubke-Barnard of the partnership presented to commissioners their report on business service representative (BSR) activity during the last seven months of 2012. Commissioners in April approved a contract with the partnership to interview county manufacturers and service providers regarding their staffing and job training needs. Other data also were collected during the in-person visits, the majority of which were done by Grubke-Barnard, project manager.

She   told   commissioners

that succession of the existing labor force at the 94 businesses that were contacted by the BSRs is likely to result in a shortage of experienced workers.

“There are a fair amount of companies that are facing 20 to 50 percent of their workforce retiring in the next three to 10 years,” she told the board.

If just the low end of that figure holds true across all county industries during the next decade, that would amount to 9,500 workers exiting the workforce, or about 950 annually. On average, about 1,100 high school seniors are graduated from the county’s public high schools. Even if just 20 percent of them leave the area for college or the military, the county will be in a deficit labor market situation.

“It is clear that preparing students for future job opportunities will be vital just to replace the existing workforce retiring before any job growth at existing businesses or the impact of new businesses is taken into consideration,” the report states. “In short, it will require better placement and retention of current students just to fill existing needs in the labor market.”

Grubke-Barnard said maintenance workers is the number one position that the surveyed employers are looking to fill. The term is somewhat misleading, however, because it goes beyond mowing the lawn or changing the oil in fleet vehicles. Actual job orders for those positions require applicants to have the ability to read schematics and blue-prints; possess welding, electrical and mechanical diagnostics/repair skills; or be able to troubleshoot and repair hydraulic and pneumatic systems.

The second biggest need is for truck drivers, a field likely to experience even more growth as the shale gas industry arrives in Ashtabula County. Further, insurers are requiring trucking companies to hire drivers with at least three years of experience.

Overall, 50 percent of the employers surveyed by a BSR said they are hiring. But many of them also indicated that finding the right person to fill job openings is very challenging because skills and education are lacking.

“When asked to comment on the workforce, the overwhelming commonality (among those interviewed) was that there is a lack of skills in those who want to work,” Grubke-Barnard told commissioners. Other issues were the failure to pass a drug test and reliability.

Commissioners committed $15,000 to the BSR position last year and contracted with Growth Partnership to provide the service. Commissioner Dan Claypool said the effort came out of the strategic planning work of an ad hoc economic development group assembled several years ago. Hiring a BSR and establishing a business, industry and education council were among the goals.

The BSR’s mission included gathering information on the kinds of skills that the employer wants applicants to have in order to fill existing job orders. Claypool said the idea is to tailor the county’s job training programs to those needs. He said the report is an excellent step in that direction.

“You really have made a dark check mark next to that goal,” Claypool told Anderson and Grubke-Barnard.

The BSRs also served as a liaison between the employer and JobSource. Grubke-Barnard said the BSRs procured 27 job orders during the seven months of interviewing. JobSource screened resumes and presented the most promising to the employer. Most of the positions were not filled by those referrals, or the employer did not report back to Growth Partnership, according to the report.

Last year the county, along with Geauga and Portage counties, received a three-year grant that can be used for BSR-related work. Claypool said that money will become available in July 2013. In the meantime, the board indicated a willingness to extend the program through the end of June so more employers can be surveyed.

“The feedback I received from businesses has been very positive, knowing that the county has taken an interest in being proactive,” Anderson told the board.