Drilling Into Manufacturing Employment

November 30, 2012

Jane Meinhardt | Tampa Bay Business Journal
It is no secret some area manufacturers lack the skilled workers necessary for growth, but the specific work force needs are not as obvious.
Many of the same economic development and work force stakeholders that partnered for the recent Hillsborough-Pinellas IT Workforce Gap Analysis are now turning their sights on manufacturing to define their needs and develop remedies. The Hillsborough-Pinellas Manufacturing Workforce Gap project leaders have started with in-depth research and expect the initiative will take a minimum of six months to complete.
“It’s very complex in terms of the types of manufacturing there are,” said Rick Homans, president and CEO of Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. “There are different jobs, different skills and different products. It’s clear there’s a lot of demand for labor, but we need to dig in and quantify what the jobs are.”
The main manufacturing segments in the Tampa-Hillsborough area are electronics, medical, aerospace and marine, he said. Initial research shows that in October, more than 1,000 manufacturing jobs were posted and advertised in the Pinellas-Hillsborough area, which project leaders suspect is probably a small percentage of the number of jobs open. The work force project will focus on manufacturing businesses with 10 or more employees, Homans said.
There are 466 manufacturers with 10 to 19 workers in the two counties, according to project research. Another 600 companies employ more than 20 for a total of 60,000 employees. The average number of employees per company is 65. “That’s the universe we’re working with,” Homans said. “There’s quite a range. Manufacturing is a huge foundation of the Tampa Bay economy, and we need to find out where they’re doing well and where improvement is needed.” Manufacturers typically are not a vocal group when it comes to specific work force needs, so part of the project will involve extensive outreach.
“If you had a hundred manufacturers in a room and asked what they need, you’ll get a hundred different answers,” said Steve Meitzen, a former Bay Area Manufacturers Association president and a business development executive at Clairson Plastics. “Lord knows this kind of project is needed.”
The lack of qualified workers has forced some manufacturers to send jobs overseas, he said. One of the major manufacturing work force needs is qualified operators for highly automated computer numerical control – or CNC – machines that use computer-aided design for production and skilled welders, Meitzen said. The manufacturers association, which is a participant in the project, has for several years set up tours of companies for students in an attempt to encourage potential future employees. “Part of the problem is the perception of manufacturing and its jobs,” Meitzen said. “It’s not what people think, and they’re amazed when they go on these tours and see how high-tech many of the jobs are.” Exposing more high school students to manufacturing to dispel misconceptions is one way to meet some work force needs, said Ed Peachey, president and CEO of WorkNet Pinellas and Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance. Both agencies are on the project’s steering committee. “The biggest issue we have is getting people interested in going into these jobs,” he said. “Even if we had enough training capacity, the issue then is can you get people into the programs. That’s the tougher battle.” Homans agreed, noting that manufacturing does not have the job appeal it did a generation ago, which is an issue the project will address.
One of the first outreaches to manufactures is a survey that will be distributed in about a month to gather input. One-on-one discussions with companies and focus groups also are planned. Homans knows the project has to earn the support of manufacturers. “A number of manufacturers are kind of burned out from previous studies that took a lot of their time and then not much happened,” he said. “We’re going to have to convince them this is for real, and we have the leadership of the community engaged.”