Businesses meet with Gateway Tech to discuss ‘skills gap’
ELKHORN Jobs that pay $50,000 to $70,000 and require only a high school education with some technical training are going unfilled in Walworth County due to what is commonly referred to as a “skills gap,” a local manufacturer says.
About 40 representatives from Walworth County businesses, mostly manufacturers, met Thursday to discuss the skills gap and other employer needs in an increasingly competitive environment.
“We have high school graduates working for $50,000 to $70,000 a year, but they have the technical and soft skills necessary to do the demanding work we have here,” said Mike Reader, president and owner of Precision Plus of Elkhorn. The company manufactures precision components such as medical hardware, liquid oxygen system valve components, pneumatic spools and firing pins.
“We have all heard that manufacturers could hire qualified employees if they paid a living wage,” Reader said. “Well, that’s not the case generally, and it’s certainly not the case here.”
He said he needs skilled workers who can pass background checks and possess the soft skills to become valued employees.
“If 100 people apply for a job here, only three will even be considered,” he said. “The other 97 are simply not trained to do what we need. Of the remaining three, only one is likely to possess all the qualities we need.”
Machines at Precision Plus cost as much as $600,000 each, Reader said.
“Our high-tech processes require cream-of-the-crop employees, not low skilled workers,” Reader said. “We have to change a culture. We offer high-paying jobs for skilled employees with the proper work ethic.”
The Gateway Technical College campus in Elkhorn can provide some of the training the area employers said they need, but it cannot offer specific training on every machine each employer uses, said Debbie Davidson, Gateway Vice President of Workforce and Economic Development.
“It’s just not cost effective for us to offer a class of 10 students at our campus training on the five of six machines a specific employer might use,” she said. “We cannot afford to keep buying these very expensive machines.”
A better fit for Gateway is to offer training in fundamental skills on campus and then take students to the manufacturers for targeted training by Gateway instructors on the employers’ machines, Davidson said.
“We can provide training in safety, precision measuring, blueprint reading and the math skills that go along with those skills,” she said. “These are the technical and soft skills necessary for the lean manufacturing program that requires getting rid of waste, improving quality, better production flow and inventory control. We can prepare students with those skill who can then receive more specific training.”
Reader said he thought Thursday’s meeting was productive.
“In the past, I’ve seen these meetings occur and then nothing,” he said. “We must now take the good ideas to the next stages of planning and implementation.”
Mike Van Den Bosch, executive director of the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance, said he was encouraged by the exchange of information at Thursday’s meeting.
“This was a good start,” he said. “Now we move on to the next steps.”