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Survey Finds Manufacturers Will Face Shortage Of Production Workers


A new report says advanced manufacturing companies in western Massachusetts continue to struggle to hire production employees despite efforts over the last couple of years to close the skills gap and attract more people to careers in the field.  The state’s top economic official says the manufacturing sector in Massachusetts remains strong.

The report from the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County said a survey of 38 companies found they will need to hire close to 700 new production workers in the next three years, but local educational institutions during that time will graduate fewer than half the number of people with the skills required to fill the jobs.

The report recommends the manufacturers work through trade associations to lobby for more government funding for workforce training programs, increase the capacity of vocational schools and community colleges to graduate more students, and focus parents and high school guidance counselors on the career opportunities in manufacturing.

  If the jobs can’t be filled, the work could leave the region according to Dave Cruise, president of the Hampden Regional Employment Board.

"These businesses, based on the results of the survey, continue to grow. They are going to become concerned, if they are not already, about the inability to replace the workers they have."

 The employers surveyed are located in Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties. They are  mostly small to medium size enterprises that make everything from handguns, to medical devices, to parts for the aerospace industry.

     Cruise said workers already in the industry who need to upgrade their skills, returning military veterans and the long-term unemployed are all candidates to be trained for production jobs in manufacturing.  He said available classroom space needs to be used after traditional school hours.

" We want to begin to use those facilities from 3 pm to 9 pm. to run programs when the facilities and equipment are not being utilized."

The report was released Monday at a gathering of industry representatives and government officials who met at Cadence Aerospace Tell Tool Operations in Westfield.  It was a follow-up to a report released two years ago that highlight the problem manufacturers had in finding skilled workers.

  Ed Leyden, who owns Ben Franklin Manufacturing in Agawam and is co-chair of  the statewide Advanced Manufacturing Collaborative said progress is being made to address employment demands. He pointed to higher enrollments at vocational schools, new classroom space at Springfield Technical Community College, and state funded training programs.

" Its is not just the machinists. It is also the process engineer, the inspector, the set-up man, the programmer. You need somebody in each of those roles and I think there will be different ways to answer that ( demand)."

Greg Bialecki, the Massachusetts Secretary of  Housing and Economic Development said manufacturing has a bright future in the state.

"The idea that manufacturing is a great career, in fact the best opportunity  you have  without going to a four-year school, is a very important message."

Manufacturing employment in Massachusetts has held steady at about 250,000 since 2009. There was a sharp decline in the sector over the previous decade.

" If  employment simply remains level like that, the retirements were know are coming over the next five to ten years guarantee there will be openings for people who want to join the industry."

The report from the regional employment board also urged a closer collaboration between the industry and schools to assure the curriculum is meeting the needs of the employers.

  It also said innovation and new software technology is critical to the manufacturers remaining competitive in their existing supply chains and for landing new business.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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