Staffing firms feeling demand for skilled trades

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From left, Floriza Genautis, CEO & founder of Management Business Solutions, HR intern Caitlin Zielinski and recruiting assistant Stephanie Schulz focus their efforts on finding skilled trade workers for direct hire. Courtesy Deb Kalsbeek

As the baby boomer generation retires, more skilled workers are in demand.

Amy Marshall, managing partner for Management Business Solutions, a direct-hire firm that focuses on skilled trade workers, said there are millions of baby boomers retiring each year in the U.S.

She said there are more than 76 million baby boomers between 55 and 75 years old in the U.S. and millions are retiring each year.

“So, with individuals in the next two years hitting the 65 mark and retiring, what happens when the top person retires, the middle person gets promoted and then the entry-level workers get promoted?” she said. “The entry-level positions are the ones that are hurting, too, on the shop floor, and then if we are getting low enrollment with the vocational schools, it is going to hurt the beginning (phase) of the entry-level position.”

Some of the industries that are suffering from the lack of skilled trade workers are construction and manufacturing, which results in the need for workers who are electricians, welder fabricators, maintenance technicians, CNC programmers, PLC programmers, machine builders, plant managers, production supervisors, HVAC technicians, mechanics, carpenters, masons, plumbers, painters and landscapers, among other skilled trade positions.

Mike McNamara, placement director for Imperial Design Personnel, a recruiting firm that places skilled trade workers in primarily manufacturing companies, said one of the reasons there is a huge demand for skilled trade workers, in addition to baby boomers retiring, is the stereotype associated with skilled workers.

“Back in the ’70s, it was really cool for a parent to say ‘Hey, my son got a job at General Motors sweeping floors and he will eventually get into an apprenticeship program and there might be an opportunity for them to be a journeyman electrician or they are going to work at AutoDie or Steelcase,’” he said. “That used to be a cool, proud moment for parents. Now, fast forward to the 21st century. If you are not saying your kids are going to a four-year college, you are almost looked down on. They are like, ‘Really? You have to get a four-year degree.’ What is not being educated to these parents through the high schools is that there is a huge abundance of highly paid skilled trade positions for these jobs. Although, I think (high schools) are trying to do a little bit better now.”

Marshall said there has been an earlier push to start talking to students about different skilled trade fields in elementary and middle schools, instead of waiting until they are in their junior or senior year of high school.

Beth Kelly, president of HR Collaborative, a human resource management consulting firm, said with a history of deterring young people from skilled trade jobs, we now are suffering the consequences.

“Each one of us has a talent and a passion that we bring to the world,” she said. “For years, we tried to tell people that the best way to accomplish things was to go to college and get an advanced degree and get a white-collar office job that uses that skill or ability. Now we are learning the unintended consequences of that. We’ve not only redirected people from their passion, which may have been building, electrical work, plumbing or welding, but we’ve unintendedly diminished the workforce that needs these critical skills and talent. So, today, as the baby boomer population is getting ready to retire and leave, we are finding that there are people who have those talents and in response to that, companies are getting really creative in how they attract people to that industry and also how they grow them.”

Kelly said Grand Rapids Community College is doing a good job partnering with West Michigan manufacturing companies like Autocam Medical, which is providing educational opportunities for its skilled trade workers.

Marshall said the talent shortage also has forced companies to increase wages to keep their desired workers.

“Over the last three years, our clients have been increasing their starting hourly rate,” she said. “It could be as small as $0.25 to $0.50 to $1 or more due to the high demand of competing with other companies that may be paying more. So, everyone is in competition to find the top talent and having to work with the market in West Michigan.”

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