ST. MARYS — Angela Hamberg, with New Bremen Economic Development, discussed a shortage of skilled labor in the region at St. Marys Community Library’s Businessperson Breakfast Thursday morning.
The goal of economic development, she said, is to attract, retain and expand the number of people and businesses in the area.
In a village like New Bremen, manufacturing jobs are unfilled for two reasons — first because of a drug problem, but second, and more importantly, because of a lack of workers with the skills to fill the positions.
“Finding qualified workers is a nationwide problem,” Hamberg said.
While there’s no shortage of resumes in the human resource department, those applying do not have the right experiences or education to get hired. Forty-five percent of employers say that skill shortage is the leading reason for their entry-level openings remaining unfilled.
In New Bremen, the company perhaps most facing the difficulty is Crown, a company with 2,100 workers in a town of fewer than 3,000 people.
“The last thing we want to do is take people from other manufacturers,” Hamberg said.
To combat the lack of skilled labor, she said she sees companies advertising for employees outside the region, in Lima for example.
“We have people here,” Hamberg said. “We just don’t have the skill.”
She pointed out, however, that one in four people who lives here is already commuting to outside the area.
One solution she proposed is educating the underemployed workers who live here, and encouraging students graduating to think beyond college to the skills they’ll need to secure a job afterward.
Twenty percent of students are job-focused, she said, but the community needs to encourage the other 80 percent who are not sure how their passion or college major will translate post-graduation.
“We all want to be inspired,” she said of how students view their future careers. “But where is the job at the end? We all know four-year college graduates who are underemployed.”
The focus on having a skill set has faded even as the number of college graduates has increased. She sees an opportunity for students to pair their future college plans with technical skills sets that will give them an advantage over other applicants.
Also, she said, students with creative majors should be encouraged to apply for things like the marketing jobs in the health care, manufacturing and agricultural sectors.
“They think they need to go to the city to apply their creativity,” Hamberg said. “We need that creativity here.”
She gave the example of a hospital billboard she recently saw.
“It wasn’t the doctors and nurses who created that billboard,” she said.
She asked the participants to try to open doors for job shadowing, internships and co-ops locally and to guide the young people in their lives toward thinking of jobs as graduation season approaches.
“We need to let them know (skills) are what will make them stand out,” she said.