Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Did someone say jobs?

Shortage of skilled workers holds back Chicago-area manufacturers

Executives on panel discuss industry challenges

November 16, 2012|By Alejandra Cancino, Chicago Tribune reporter

Chicago-area manufacturers who participated in a panel discussion Thursday said the shortage of skilled workers will crimp their growth next year.

Tim Jahnke, president and chief executive of Elkay Cos., an Oak Brook-based maker of stainless steel sinks, faucets, water coolers and plumbing products, said the situation is so severe that his company may have to forgo about $10 million in sales — unless he's able to ramp up production.

Elkay is operating only one shift, and to increase production Jahnke would need more midlevel skilled welders, which he says he can't find.

Steven Kersten, owner and president of WaterSaver Faucet Co. and Guardian Equipment Inc., said the days when manufacturers could hang "help wanted signs" are over.

Companies need to get involved in worker training, and Kersten said his company is doing just that. In addition to in-house training, the company has hired an English instructor. The company also partners with Austin Polytechnical Academy, a West Side high school whose goal is to train the next generation of leaders in advanced manufacturing.

Kersten said many applicants for jobs at the Chicago-based company do not have basic skills such as being able to understand instructions or how to use a computer or measuring tools.
I have a two-minute speech, a 20-minute speech, a six-hour-speech and an epic, Der-Ring-des-Nibelungen-length opera on this subject.

Suffice it to say that, right this minute in the Chicagoland area there are around 30,000 manufacturing jobs going unfilled.  

Imagine that?  I mean, it's certainly not a magic bullet, but whatever cause consumes you -- antipoverty, social justice, salvaging the middle class, making sure every kid gets a great education -- the fact that there are a lot of decent, well-paying jobs going begging at the same time unemployment lingers around 8% like the party guest who never leaves should piss you off.

The good news?

All we have to do to fix this is to overhaul the entire, dysfunctional, underfunded, over-bureaucratized, patchwork "system" that gets people of all ages ready for the jobs that are really available.


One Fly said...

I'm a bit confused and I've seen the same refrain several times before.

There were and still are millions who have lost their jobs and are not back to work. Not enough have decent enough job skills to make water coolers and faucets with the minimum of instruction? The machines do the work.

It just seems strange there are so few skilled workers. I understand that many jobs became service related but still some where somebody must know how to do something.

steeve said...

The sum of all I've seen you say on this subject is that you have a lot to say on it but not now.

I hope we can get the long version sometime. (Or maybe we did and I missed it.)

dbt said...

Dumb question -- how much do these great, highly skilled, in demand unable to find people jobs pay?

clem said...

maybe you could do a special proleft on the subject, maybe even arrange a discussion with mike the mad biologist, who is all over education reform?

StonyPillow said...

Oh yeah, we've gotten the long version once or twice. Not to mention a few times on The Professional Left podcast.

A couple of points. First off, this is the Chicago Tribune talking, a true right wing organ. They're tools.

Second, most production welding positions don't pay too well, especially to start. You build up to that with experience you won't get, either because you'll get laid off at the first hint of a downturn, or because they'll let you go to hire some fresh fish they think could do the job for a few bucks less. Elkay in particular isn't known for holding on to their employees.

Basically, they want a pool of dedicated welders, all of them smart enough to be making some real money, who are waiting 'umble as you please and hat in hand, Lining up down Camden to 22nd street to sign up to do a filthy, complex, physically exhausting job for the princely sum of $14 an hour or so to start. Good luck on that.

Hows about they just build some dormitories for their employees, with barbed wire and nets for jumpers, and get it over with?

Invisible Backhand said...

The not enough skilled workers argument is bullshit and always was. Don't have enough skilled workers? Hire an assistant or 2 or 10 for each of the skilled workers you do have. Problem solved.

What they really mean is skilled workers who can live on fish heads and rice.

driftglass said...

1. Average manufacturing wage is around 50K. Average in Chicago is probably a tick higher: say around 60-62K. "Average" is also a loaded term since manufacturing jobs cover a huge range of skills, positions and industries.

Here's one link.

Or you can use your mouse and Teh Google to research it yourself.

2. "Hire an assistant or 2 or 10 for each of the skilled workers you do have" was a worked great in 1980. Now very few people want to let an uncertified noob play with their 300K CNC machine or assembly robot for training purposes.

3. Also frankly way too many people show up at the door looking for that "assistant" job unable to do math, write, read a blueprint and play nice with others. The "warm body" hire is a thing of the past.

4. Can't speak to the availability of welding jobs currently. I do know that more and more shops demand AWS certification and drug tests and welders as group seem to have a harder time passing a piss test than the average bear :-)

5. The Trib is a right-wing paper. They also gave Royko a home. Which is neither here nor there since you can find the same labor shortage stats at a dozen other sources.

5. Some employers are dicks. Some aren't. Welcome to the world.

dbt said...

Here's some actual data, since the Chi Trib doesn't want you to have any:


whiner employers would like to pay people $10-$15 an hour.

I have news for you. That was a skilled wage in 1980. It's not today.

tmk said...

...can I cry my eyes out now?

Anonymous said...


"3. Also frankly way too many people show up at the door looking for that "assistant" job unable to do math, write, read a blueprint and play nice with others. The "warm body" hire is a thing of the past."

And yet conservatism torpedoed the education system because nothing is more dangerous to a conservative, or ends bigotry or religious fundamentalism, like education. This was the systematic plan, to keep the greater segment of the population an ignorant, fearful, pliant laborer class. Multinationals see our forests logged and sold off, and factories and sweatshops from sea to shining polluted bacterial-slime sea.

I was watching on NetFlix an episode of "No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain" about Colombia, and it was really quite fascinating. One town previously known as "the Assassin's Cradle" was turned around by education. After the infrastructure was largely done, the city, now mayored by a college professor, spends about 40% of its budget on education. The results are dramatic. It was a great example of progressive policies took a city where drug lords trained their soldiers (on the populace) to a place with a literate, productive, hopeful populace.

Republicans and "conservative libertarians" would sh*t themselves.


Invisible Backhand said...

Although this thread is dead, I'd like to toss in that Paul Krugman agrees with me: