PROGRESS 2022: On-the-job training, higher wages help manufacturers fill the gaps

Courtesy Photo Katrina Schweinsberg, an employee for Reacher Manufacturing Corp. in Alpena, works at a training station while at the manufacturing facility last week. Local manufacturers are implementing strategies to help recruit employees to overcome an employee shortage.

ALPENA — Without manufacturing employees, the products people use every day would be in short supply.

That is why local manufacturers and area public schools are working to bolster a shrinking workforce that is vital to product production.

Some companies are going the extra mile to accommodate new and future employees by allowing them paid, hands-on training that gives potential employees a glimpse at what a manufacturing job entails and the work environment they would be exposed to.

Manufacturing is one of the largest job sectors in Northeast Michigan, with 1,879 employees manufacturing employees in Alpena County in 2021. That trails only retail trade positions, which had 2,267 paid positions, and government jobs, which had 2,557 paid positions.

Employment Services Inc. recruits employees for more than 90 manufacturing companies in and outside Alpena.

Jackie Krawczak, the corporate representative, said manufacturers have filled vacant roster spots with increased wages, improved benefit packages, and often by cutting some slack to workers who have had run-ins with the law. She said ESI clients employ 1,200 workers and about another 200 are needed.

Krawczak said the companies receive a large number of applications, but, many times, the applicants aren’t willing to pass a drug test or have had a prior negative experience at the business. She said that, often, potential employees fail to return a phone call or show up for an interview.

Krawczak said the current employee shortage can’t be summarized because of one reason. Instead, she said, there are many reasons people turn their back on a good job.

“It is the perfect storm of a lot of factors,” Krawczak said. “There is still a lot of public assistance out there that people use and the legalization of marijuana has created an unreal expectation in many people’s minds in what they can and can’t do on the job.”

A lack of and high cost of child care has also kept some potential employees on the sidelines, Krawczak said, as does a housing shortage, as potential employees who consider moving to the area can’t find a place to live.

To help overcome the hiring challenges, employers also fight the misconception that manufacturing jobs are dirty and involve many hours behind a machine in a dark and dingy work environment.

Reacher Manufacturing Corp. is taking a new approach to recruiting employees. Since the summer, they’ve invited potential employees into the plant, paired them with someone to job shadow, and let them work at small and simple work stations.

Not only are the potential employees paid to learn on-site, but they also get a grasp of what a full-time manufacturing job would consist of.

Operation Manager Keli Werda said the process allows the company to gauge the level of training a person needs and their familiarity with tools and how to use them. As an employee’s skills and knowledge of the manufacturing process increases, they move to other stations where their abilities and production are heightened.

“We bring the applicants, we walk them through, explain what we’re doing here, and see if it’s something they are willing to try,” Werda said. “We take them through training stations, so people can get their hands and feet wet. Plus, they get paid for it.”

Local manufacturers depend on a pool of employees who want to make a career in manufacturing and rely on local schools to promote and teach skilled trades.

The Alpena Community College manufacturing and welding programs help fill gaps in the hiring shortage, Krawczak said.

Andrew Paad, the machine tool technology instructor at ACC, said classrooms aren’t filling up as fast as needed to meet the demand of businesses seeking help.

“The skilled trade positions aren’t replenishing themselves, and, because of that, there is very high demand, and high-paying jobs close to home” Paad said. “Right now, I have first semester students who we have placed in jobs locally and are doing very well for themselves.”


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