Portman talks training, tariffs at Warren Fab

Tribune Chronicle / Ron Selak Jr. U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, left, speaks with Joe Miller of Mercer, Pa., on Tuesday inside the Warren Fabricating and Machining plant in Hubbard. Portman toured the facility and then sat down with employees, including Chief Operating Officer Regina Mitchell, to talk about challenges facing the company. Miller was working on a mud pump for the gas and oil industry.

HUBBARD — Regina Mitchell, chief operating officer of Warren Fabricating and Machining, can find employees, just not the right employees.

She chalks that up as her biggest challenge running the Hubbard-based specialized fabricator, machiner and assembler of large steel weldments.

“We can find workers; we can’t find skilled workers,” said Mitchell. “We spend a lot of time training now and those are dollars spent, wages spent we can’t pass along to our customers, so we end up absorbing those costs and it’s probably our biggest issue right now.”

That was in response to a question from U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, who Tuesday toured the Chestnut Ridge Road facility and spoke with employees on tax reform, career and technical education programs, and training a workforce for available jobs.

“We have a skills gap, and too many employers are struggling to find people with the skills that are needed for today’s in-demand jobs,” said Portman, R-Ohio, who, with Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, last week introduced a jobs bill that would expand Pell grants to cover short-term job-training programs.

The proposal, he said, would benefit students and employers. Pell grants — needs-based grants for low-income and working students — now are reserved for more traditional college educations. They can be applied toward programs of more than 600 hours or at least 15 weeks long where job training programs can be shorter.

“I hear from students, I can get money to go to college, but I can’t get money to get a welding certificate … it’s got the incentives misplaced,” said Portman.

Portman and Kaine’s proposal was included in President Donald Trump’s budget request to Congress, and Portman is trying to have the measure put into broader legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act this year.

Mitchell said she would like to see greater diversification in training programs and added focus on soft skills, like blueprint reading and quality control. The company works with community colleges and career and technical programs for worker training, but would like to see better outcomes.

“Because we work with such heavy steel plate and we are kind of an anomaly in our area, when they graduate from school, they haven’t really had access or the experience of working on our type” of machinery and equipment, Mitchell said.

Tariffs and trade also made their way into a roundtable discussion after Portman toured the production facility.

Tariffs on raw materials have helped stabilize the steel plate industry and benefit Warren’s Fab sister company, Ohio Steel Sheet and Plate, but the lack of tariffs on finished products, like what is produced at Warren Fab, that are subsidized by, and arrive from, China hurts.

It’s an issue Portman said he intends to address in Washington, D.C.

“The tariff is not hitting the finished product. So we’re going to look into that when we get back to Washington because we know most of the stuff from China is subsidized and there should be a tariff to account for the subsidization, which is called countervailing duties, so we’re going to try to help with that.”

rselak@tribtoday.com

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