Matt Bujak, quality manager at Keats Manufacturing Company, left, reviews the work using a calibrator to check a manufactured part with Matthew Steinborn in the MCIP intern program.
Richard Gilchrist looks at the latest unemployment figures and scratches his head.
The nation’s unemployment rate stands at 7.3 percent, with 11.3 million people out of work. Gilchrist, meanwhile, is having trouble filling jobs at his Schaumburg-based manufacturing company.
“I look at the unemployment rate, and all these people looking for work, and I have four or five jobs I could fill right now,” said Gilchrist, president of Flesomat USA Inc., the maker of precision machines used to make transmission parts.
And these positions — software engineers and mechanical design engineers — are desk jobs commanding salaries of $70,000-$100,000 a year.
“These are not dirty factory jobs. They work in an office on million dollar machines writing code and designing products,” Gilchrist said.
Flesomat and other employers suffer from what economists call a “talent gap.”
The gap comes from job applicants having a lack of interest, or a lack of skills to fill certain jobs.
Some jobs just aren’t sexy enough for jobseekers. Tool and die makers, information technology specialists, medical technicians, physical therapists, truck drivers, electricians and plumbers are in short supply, according to a recent study by Challenger, Gary & Christmas, a Chicago-based outplacement firm.
“We can’t find people who are even interested in these jobs. They’re not even on young people’s radar screens,” said Rand Haas, president of Medusa Consulting Group Inc., a headhunting firm in Medinah that specializes in filling manufacturing positions.
The other factor creating the talent gap is a lack of worker training. Skilled positions — including those in information technology, accounting and finance, engineering and mechanics — go unfilled because applicants lack the education or training, according to a recent study from ManpowerGroup, the Milwaukee-based human resources firm.
“As talent shortages in key areas persist, we need to focus on training programs that create opportunity for employers to fill their talent gaps, and for jobseekers to obtain an in-demand skill,” said Jonas Prising, president of ManpowerGroup.
In the suburbs, private enterprise is working with public entities, including federal and state agencies and community colleges, to close the talent gap.
Consider Illinois workNet, a state program designed to help people find jobs and employers to train workers to fill positions. Illinois workNet of Northern Cook County, headquartered in Arlington Heights, created the Manufacturing Careers Internship Program to help train and place student interns into manufacturing jobs. It also partners with Harper College in Palatine.
About 80 interns have gone through the program since its inception two years ago, and it has since expanded into Illinois workNet offices in Southern Cook County, and Kane and McHenry counties.
“We’ve really tried to focus on using our job training dollars on those jobs that are in demand,” said Al Saulys, executive director of business and career services at Illinois workNet of Northern Cook County.
Keats Manufacturing Co., a metal stamping firm based in Wheeling, has hired eight interns from the program. Once on board, these workers receive an additional 6-12 months of in-house training at Keats to operate the company’s sophisticated stamping machinery, said company COO Matt Eggemeyer.
“Our big deal is to develop talent,” Eggemeyer said. “It’s hard to find talent. It’s hard to find those individuals who want to do the job.”
The reward is that an experienced tool and die maker can earn $70,000-$80,000 a year, Eggemeyer said.
Yet, the talent gap is gaping. “I’ve had an ad out for a tool and die maker, and I have yet to get a response,” Eggemeyer said.
Similarly, companies are struggling to find technology workers, everything from entry-level technicians to experienced information technology specialists, said Jennifer Serino Stasch, director of the Lake County Workforce Development Department.
The department operates the Job Center of Lake County, with offices in Waukegan and Grayslake, and is affiliated with Illinois workNet. It also partners with College of Lake County.
There also are openings for welders, fork lift and truck drivers, hospitality and retail workers, medical assistants and physical therapists, Stasch said.
Jobseekers can use the Job Center of Lake County to receive computer training, assistance in online job searches and coaching in resumes and cover letter writing, among other services.
Meanwhile, employers increasing their use of the Job Center to find qualified workers, Stasch said.
“Employers are at the table again. They’re doing more hiring,” she said.
One employer that uses the Job Center of Lake County to find workers is Complete Orthopaedic Care in Lincolnshire. With the shortage of physical therapists, Complete Orthopaedic turned to Kay Lynn Dewane, an employment specialist at the Job Center, to help find a qualified candidate.
“All I need to do is email the job posting to Kay, and she does the rest,” said Leslie Maj, director of human resources at Complete Orthopaedic. “This allows me to work smarter and harder, because Kay helps me find the right candidates.”
Rather than trying to hire away an experienced physical therapist from another practice, Complete Orthopaedic found a newly-certified therapist who fit in well with the practice, Maj said.
The competition for experienced physical therapists is so intense, it’s not uncommon for practices to getting into bidding wars. As a result, experienced physical therapists can command salaries in excess of $100,000.
Which is a lesson in why private employers must continue to work with government agencies and community colleges to develop more training programs, said ManpowerGroup’s Prising.
“Employers are becoming more willing to invest in existing talent,” Prising said, “…and also broadening their approach to sourcing new talent, both of which are starting to ease the strain of the talent shortage.”