AWB Hits the Road to Promote WA Manufacturers

U.S. job openings reached a record high nationwide in August, suggesting that employers are having a difficult time finding qualified workers. In its monthly report, the U.S. Labor Department said there were 7.14 million unfilled positions in the economy in August, outpacing the number of Americans actively searching for work by 902,000.

Nearly 500,000 of those job openings were in manufacturing, a sector the Association of Washington Business highlighted this month with a bus tour of several dozen Washington manufacturers.

During its second-annual tour, AWB emphasized the quality career paths that manufacturing offers and encouraged policymakers and others to support Washington manufacturers.

“Manufacturing is vital to Washington’s economy and provides a proven pathway to the middle class,” said AWB President Kris Johnson.

Manufacturing supports more than 282,000 jobs in Washington with an average annual wage of more than $72,000 compared to the overall average of just under $55,000.

“A lot of manufacturing still takes place here in the U.S. — and Spokane — despite stories to the contrary,” Michael Senske, CEO of Pearson Packaging Systems, said during AWB’s visit.

Many of the manufacturers AWB saw during the tour said that finding qualified workers is difficult, confirming the national data.

“We have had good success in getting general labor. It’s finding high-skilled labor that’s more of a problem,” Bruce Babcock of FarWest Fabricators told the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Hostart, a Spokane Valley manufacturer of equipment that warms engines for trucks and other heavy equipment, reports challenges as well. The Spokesman-Review reported:

Hotstart’s employee count has grown by about 50 over the past two years. The company likes to grow its own talent, encouraging employees to work their way up the ranks, (CEO Terry) Judge said. Hotstart offers in-house training and tuition reimbursement.

“We love to have people start with us and grow their careers with us,” he said.

Finding entry-level workers has grown more challenging. Fewer high schools offer shop classes and fewer people work on their own cars, he said.

With fewer people exposed to making or fixing things, the pool of prospective workers interested in a manufacturing career is shrinking, Judge said.

“We don’t have to have people who are highly skilled. We’ll train them,” he said. “But we want people who are motivated and excited to learn. They need to have an affinity for the work.”

More detail about the AWB’s bus tour highlighting manufacturing is available on the Olympia Business Watch blog.