With many local manufacturers seeing their older workers approaching retirement age, there is high demand for trained workers to fill a number of positions. Some companies have begun offering training programs, but due to the highly competitive market, larger companies often recruit these students right out from under them.
“Skilled employees are hard to come by,” said Bill Carroll, business development coordinator for the City of New Britain. “This has been going on for decades now. The intent of these programs is to offset the cost of training employees, but the industry, especially the aerospace industry, is so competitive. It’s like robbing Peter to pay for Paul. Some of the larger companies offer better pay scales, but I’ve heard of cases where people leave only to decide that it was a mistake and then try to come back to work for the smaller manufacturer.”
Justin Malley, executive director of the Bristol Development Authority, said that while the fiercely competitive market can be troublesome for some manufacturers it can be positive for workers.
“They become, in a way, free agents that command a lot of interest,” he said. “Having certain skills in this high demand environment can lead to lucrative salaries for these trainees.”
David Derynoski, a member of the Southington Board of Education, is also the sales manager at Reno Machine in Newington. He has been involved in the manufacturing industry for 40 years and said the practice of larger companies pulling skilled workers away from smaller manufacturers has been an “ongoing issue.”
“I just left a company in Cheshire two years ago that lost a slew of good, qualified people to Pratt & Whitney,” he said. “The smaller manufacturers can’t compete with the bigger companies. I recently heard of a manufacturing partnership program with Tunxis Community College where the fifth group of students was almost entirely recruited by a bigger company than the one that was training them. Thus, they decided to end the program.”
Derynoski said the average smaller manufacturing company offers a pay scale ranging from $14 to $15 an hour. A larger company may be able to offer $18 to $20 an hour.
“Manufacturing training programs are very successful for the trainees; they are getting good training and experience,” Derynoski continued. “But the smaller companies can’t compete on wages.”
Derynoski said his company, Reno, does not have a formal training program but will hire some lesser skilled workers and then have a more experienced employee work alongside them.
On the school side of things, Derynoski said that making sure students can get access to trade skills has been his focus for 28 years.
“In my industry, aerospace manufacturing, I saw the shortage coming years ago,” he said. “Even trade schools don’t offer all of the skills that companies need. Most of them don’t have tool-making programs like they used to.”
In Plainville, Mike Greenwald, vice president of Connecticut Tool and Manufacturing, spoke to U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty about the issue of workers being “stolen” during a tour in January. However, since then, Greenwald said that this issue has “slowed down” for his company.
“I don’t think that big companies are specifically targeting us,” he said. “I think that the message did get out there and we did complain to Pratt & Whitney about it as well. There are only so many workers coming in and when one company is stealing from another it isn’t helping.”
Despite this being an issue in the past, Greenwald said, the aerospace manufacturing industry is “very strong” right now and his company’s internship program has been very successful.
“I spent some time at Manchester Community College last Monday and met with incoming manufacturing students,” he said. “Six folks submitted resumes and we made offers to three of them. E.C. Goodwin in New Britain just graduated a student that was an intern and now they are a full-time employee. Overall, our program has brought in six engineering grads and three are going through training now. Another student is graduating in December and we will extend them an offer. For machining we’ve hired between 8 and 10 people.”
Greenwald said he believes that the state needs to create more opportunities for manufacturing education.
“I don’t think that the state does a good job at the high school level,” he said. “I don’t think that students know that these types of internship programs exist and what kind of opportunities there are. In January, when Elizabeth Esty came through, we had 165 employees. We now have 174. If I could find 12 more skilled workers I would hire them all on the spot for first and second shift jobs.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.