Manufacturers Face Hiring Hurdles
December 4, 2011 - Lake Country Reporter
Village of Hartland - The good news: Business at local tool-and-die shops is on the upswing, a small sign that the nation's economic recovery might finally be under way. The bad news: The shops can't find the trained workers they need to keep up with the increase in demand for their products and services.
Last week, several members of the Tool, Die & Machining Association of Wisconsin (TDMAW) met with state Senator Rich Zipperer (R-Pewaukee) of the 33rd Senate District and state Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) of the 33rd Assembly District in an effort to help legislators better understand what the industry needs to succeed. That, in turn, would help the greater economy move forward.
The group met at Versevo, a tool-and-die shop in Hartland's industrial park that manufactures molds, dies, patterns and fixtures used by the casting and injection molding industries.
"Right now, what we're experiencing is the U.S. economy coming back strong," said Versevo President Terry Moon.
Versevo is experiencing brisk business both because of an increase in demand for its products and services and a decrease in competition. Moon estimates that 25 percent to 40 percent of the businesses that once competed with Versevo went out of business during the recession.
Instead of a lack of business, tool-and-die makers now face a different hurdle. "Our main problem is difficulty trying to hire people to do the jobs that we need them to do here," Moon said. "We're running continuous ads all the time, and we can't get people in here."
The industry is dealing with an aging workforce, and few younger people are choosing to enter the field.
The jobs offered at tool-and-die manufacturers are good ones. At the end of a five-year apprenticeship, tool and die makers can easily make $40,000-$50,000 a year, and can eventually earn in the neighborhood of $80,000-$100,000 annually.
Members of TDMAW suggested that a number of factors are keeping people from choosing careers in tool-and-die making. High school guidance counselors seem to be steering all students to four-year colleges, even though that might not be the best path for everyone, Moon said. Moon himself left the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse after two years, before eventually starting a career in the tool-and-die industry.
Technical colleges also seem to have lost their historic emphasis on training students for careers in the trade industry, and many high schools have curtailed shop class offerings. Manufacturing in general doesn't seem to be viewed as a favorable career choice anymore.
"We've created this negative image of manufacturing as a place to lead your life," said Greg Grambow, president of Du-Well Grinding Enterprises in Menomonee Falls. "If you worked on cars as a kid, tore your bicycles apart, this is nirvana."
Supporting the tool-and-die industry is essential to ensuring that the United States continues to be able to manufacture the things our country needs, several TDMAW members said.
"Can we remain the leader of the free world if we don't make things?" asked Madison-based lobbyist Chet Gerlach.