YOUNGSTOWN - Today's factory isn't the dark, dirty and dangerous place where fathers once toiled to earn money to send their children to college and a better life.
Manufacturing's transformation into a high-tech, clean and safer environment was one of the main themes that emerged Thursday from the packed Oh-Penn Interstate Region Manufacturing Workforce Summit at Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University.
"We have to inform the work force, especially young kids, that there now is an alternative to college, going into the military service or a service sector job - and it's a pretty good alternative," said Bill Turner, work force administrator for the Warren Ohio Department of Job and Family Services office.
Crowd of 400 at the Oh-Penn Interstate Region Manufacturing Workforce Summit at YSU Kilcawley Cente
The other key message was bleaker - industrial employers can't find nearly enough qualified workers to meet growing demand, especially in the Marcellus and Utica shale natural gas industry booming in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.
"The need and shortage (of workers) is horrible, and it's going to get worse in the next five years if we don't work together," said Andreas Foerster, president of Starr Manufacturing Inc. in Vienna, a maker of coal-extracting equipment, compressors and other industrial machinery.
Employers traced the work shortage to a host of problems, including some educators' lack of awareness of manufacturing's array of desirable jobs, and students' outdated view of manufacturing as low-tech and dirty, along with lack of emphasis on math and problems with drug use.
Tribune Chronicle / Larry Ringler
Jay Williams, left, former Youngstown mayor and now “auto czar,” talks with Andreas Foerster, president of Starr Manufacturing, during the Oh-Penn Interstate Region Manufacturing Workforce Summit on Thursday at Kilcawley Center at Youngstown State University.
Trina Rauscher-Cooper, human resources director for steel pipe maker V&M Star in Youngstown, said the company has received 16,000 applications for the 350 jobs at the high-tech pipe mill it's building on Youngstown's North Side.
She said the company looks for applicants with skills, math knowledge and work ethic that enables them to learn additional skills, work together in teams, do the job and show up for work regularly. Dedicated workers sometimes can make a living better than workers in many other fields, she said.
Dale Deist, whose Deist Industries south of Meadville, Pa., makes rolloff containers, flat beds and other truck bodies, pointed out U.S. manufacturing itself is the world's eighth largest economy, and that it pays about 25 percent more than nonmanufacturing work.
"It's also the springboard to other careers," he said, noting the superintendent of a nearby school system started as a machinist.
Deist said workers don't need to know calculus or other higher forms of mathematics.
"It's knowing how many 8-inch tiles" fit into a room, he said. "We need to let students know how they can use that knowledge in the real world."
Former Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, now the director of the Office of Recovery for Auto Communities, otherwise known as President Barack Obama's "car czar," said he was impressed with the crowd of about 400.
He said one message he will take from the session is the importance of stressing vocational training at earlier levels of school.
"Vocational was often looked at that you were good with your hands but not the brightest bulb in the class. That's not where we're at in manufacturing," he said. "I'm completely blown away by how clean, how modernized these manufacturing facilities are."
Speakers emphasized the need for educators to inform students about manufacturing to give them a choice of career. They said students as early as kindergarten, or even before, should be exposed to manufacturing.
The message helps get the word out about what the Trumbull Career and Technical Center and Kent State University at Trumbull already are doing, spokesmen said.
However, lack of information among employers and students is making it difficult to boost manufacturing education.
"From employers' perspective, educators aren't meeting the demand for skilled workers. From educators' perspective, we can't get students into out manufacturing program. They're not interested; they're not aware of the high-wage occupations," said Linda Goetsch, director of work force development and continuing studies at KSU at Trumbull in Champion.
Jessica Borza, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Manufacturing Coalition, which sponsored the event with the Industry Partnership of Lawrence and Mercer Counties, said a report of the event will be compiled in the next couple of weeks and posted to the group's website, www.mvmanufacturing.com
Group members then will meet to discuss the event in more detail, leading to an action plan in one to two months.
"We're done talking. Now, it's time to roll up our sleeves," she said.