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by Wilhemina Anderson

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, there are 12.82 million manufacturing workers in the United States, accounting for 8.5 percent of the workforce. In Volusia County, those working in manufacturing make up 4.5 percent of the workforce, around 11,000 workers.*

But according to area manufacturers, more workers are needed. It’s a challenge cities and towns across the nation are facing in this tight labor market.

Why is the market so tight? Experts say it’s a number of factors, including retiring baby boomers, a lack of interest in manufacturing careers from the next generation and a “skills gap.” So how are local manufacturers tackling the talent challenge? They are employing multi-pronged approaches.

Targeting Talent

In a competitive market, the first hurdle is getting noticed. Hudson Technologies, a leading manufacturer of precision, deep drawn metal enclosures, and stampings in Ormond Beach, Florida is going beyond posting open positions on job boards. They are reaching out to potential employees through networking events, job fairs and team member referrals. They have also made changes to their website, which now includes a virtual tour of their facility – a move they hope will increase interest.

The company said they have also implemented a new recruiting management system, which has enabled them to recruit and manage the new hiring process in a more standardized way.

They have also made targeted efforts to attract veterans, a group they have identified as an overlooked talent pool. Veterans have been great hires for the company–reliable and able to contribute specialized skill sets, such as leadership and teamwork.

Fireworks by Santore, a Palm Coast based business providing high-quality pyrotechnic entertainment, also appreciates the special skills veterans bring to the table. “We try to hire vets. We have a number [of veterans] working for us–for two reasons,” said Producer of Live Display/Consultant, Gary Delia. “They’ve paid their dues, and they’re usually trained in explosives. They have a pretty healthy respect for explosives and what they’re doing, so it’s been a very good fit for us.”

Creating A Pipeline

Some manufacturers are offering internships and apprenticeships in an effort to grow their own talent ‘pipelines.’ It is an approach that can pay-off now and in the future–and it’s needed.

Addressing the “skills gap” is a serious challenge for the industry. According to a 2018 study by Deloitte, nearly 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will become available by 2025 but because of the skills gap, 2 million jobs will remain unfilled.

Hudson Technologies offers a state accredited apprenticeship for its Tool and Die maker position. It not only makes the company attractive to potential employees, it is important to current employees who are looking to expand their skills. Developing talent in-house and promoting from within is one of Hudson Technologies’ retention strategies.

Thompson Pump, a 49 year-old, maker of heavy-duty dewatering and construction pumps based in Port Orange, offers summer internships. According to Victor Nadeau, Human Resource Director, the company has had some success with the program. And at least one intern has become an employee.

A Competitive Package

Local manufacturers are also reviewing the salaries and benefits they offer and thinking creatively about how to keep employees engaged beyond the paycheck.

Thompson Pump has begun reimbursing for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). These items, such as helmets and clothing, are not required by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Standards) but provide employees with additional protection from workplace injuries and illnesses.

Meanwhile, Santore & Sons, a manufacturer of close-proximity and indoor pyrotechnics based in Bunnell, and a company affiliated with Fireworks by Sanotre, has launched an employee engagement committee. The goal of the committee is to identify strategies that will keep employees happier and more invested in staying with the business long term.

Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe, whose kitchen, production and bottling facility are based in DeLand, said the training they provide is a part of their strategy to attract new employees, “Especially in a small business, it is important to cross train employees. So, if this is a first job or a change in jobs, new employees know that they will be learning the different aspects of the business.” Meyer went on to say, “We also rotate people every few hours, so they are not only learning, but are also doing something different at various times during the day.”

Part of Kermit’s retention strategy has been to focus on accommodating its older, long-term workers. For example, Meyer said, “Hourly employees are guaranteed 40 hours per week, if they are available to work.”

Kermit’s has also kept its salaries competitive. “We have given significant pay raises, both targeted and across the board. Again, retaining good employees is always better than having to recruit and train new workers,” said Meyer.

Wilhemina Anderson is a recent graduate of Flagler Palm Coast High School, class of 2018. As a Dual Enrollment student, Wilhemina received her Associates of Arts degree from Daytona State College in May 2018 before receiving her high school diploma. Continuing her education at Daytona State College, Wilhemina plans to transfer to the University of Central Florida in the fall of 2019 to pursue a career in the medical field as a physician. Her passion for helping the community has extended to volunteerism with the Friends of A1A Scenic & Historic Coastal Byway, the United Way Women’s Initiative Flagler, Habitat for Humanity and the Flagler Film Festival.