May 29–There are jobs out there in Mercer County, but not always anyone to fill them.
John Bunnell, program supervisor at Mercer County CareerLink in Sharon, said the agency sees 800-1,000 clients a month — all looking for a new career.
Occupations in highest demand are health care, home health services, truck drivers and skilled labor.
Bunnell said truck driving positions are a particular challenge, because CareerLink has a shortage of candidates with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL).
“We can’t seem to fill the needs,” he said. “Some of the people, they aren’t willing to be away from their families for that length of time.”
Veronica O’Brien, director of safety and human resources of Yourga Trucking, feels his pain.
She said the trucking industry has changed over the last few decades, but the need for employees has not.
The Wheatland company, which employs about 50 truck drivers, could use plenty more.
But despite the constant need, plenty of openings and livable wages, O’Brien said she cannot find anyone to take the jobs.
“If I could find eight to ten truck drivers, I’d be happy,” she said.
People training to become truck drivers range from those just out of technical school to those who might have been displaced from another job and are looking for a new start, said Robyn Churko, vice president of finance and administration at Yourga.
“Whenever I interview, I try to tailor the approach to the person I’m talking with, so a person with a family might be more interested in the benefits whereas a younger person might be more interested in what they will be paid,” she said.
To become a truck driver, O’Brien said applicants must be 21 years old and have a CDL Class A license. Anyone with a felony or a DUI, but who has gone at least 10 years without another violation, is negotiable, O’Brien said
O’Brien said there are not enough students coming out of truck driver training programs, either.
With an average of 6-12 students per class, the applicants are snapped up quickly.
“There are at least a dozen companies within 30 miles of us,” she said.
Trucking is not the only place where the jobs outpace the applicant pool.
Bunnell said skilled labor positions, including carpentry and welding, are also in high demand.
With construction of the ethane cracker plant in Beaver County, there is a need for carpenters. The hydraulic fracture gas drilling boom in western Pennsylvania is having another effect — a premium on certified pipe welders, he said.
Lonnie McFall of West Middlesex, a 20-year veteran of the Carpenters Union Local 420, knows firsthand what challenges they face.
Right now the carpentry industry is a “revolving door,” he said. Workers are getting trained and getting put right into work because there is a swell of work that needs to be done.
“There is more work than I have seen in a long time, a lot of big jobs,” McFall said.
The cracker plant in Beaver County is drawing hundreds of jobs and the Hickory Run Energy Plant is currently using 35 men, with that number expected to increase. The summer is expected to be filled with several multi-million-dollar school construction projects.
“I haven’t see it this strong in quite some time,” McFall said.
And still, with all the work, there just are not enough people to fill the jobs, he said.
“We are trying to find them,” he said. “Most guys are coming in with diplomas, but a lot of times drug testing scares them away. That is one of the major factors,” McFall said.
The union’s training center in Pittsburgh is expecting 160 new apprentices. The union’s apprenticeship is a four-year, earn while you learn program. Apprentices start out at $16 to $20 an hour, plus benefits.
Companies that need skilled labor in this region area finding the pool is smaller and smaller.
International Timer and Veneer needs about 200 people to be operational, and it easily keeps 175 employees, said Spike Mancuso, director of human relations.
But it is that last 15 to 20 who pose the greatest challenge, Mancuso said.
“it is not easy to fill every position every day,” he said.
People come to work for a few days and then stop showing up, Mancuso said. Sometimes they work a week, pick up their first paycheck and then do not bother coming back.
Drug use also poses a problem, he said. Although applicants do not have to be drug tested prior to working with the company, they are subjected to random tests, which always weed out a few people.
“We see people all the time who are struggling (with drugs),” he said. “And that is not just the manufacturing industry.”
But Mancuso cites another reason why filling jobs can be such a challenge today. He calls it a societal shift.
Potential employees do not have the same work ethic they once did, nor do they have the soft skills, like dealing with people, that they need to succeed in the workplace, he said. And that deficiency, he added, is because they are not learning those skills, or values like a work ethic, at home.
“People who want jobs have been able to get jobs, and the people who are unemployed struggle with the work ethic that businesses are looking for,” Mancuso said. “They don’t have the mentality — ‘You go to work and you go to work every day.’ We tell people all the time. When we hire someone, we believe the No. 1 characteristic of a good employee is someone who comes to work every day and gives an effort.”
Melanie Arnio, a human resources generalist at G.W. Becker Inc. in Hermitage, says drug testing is not a hurdle for her in finding good people. But sometimes a driver’s license keeps her from finding a viable candidate for the company, which sells and manufactures cranes and crane accessories.
She also sees the same problem with those soft skills — what to say, what to wear and maintaining eye contact.
While that isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker, Arnio said it sometimes indicates a candidate hasn’t interviewed in a long time or might be in his or her first interview.
“Sometimes during an interview I’ll think, ‘OK, you probably shouldn’t have told me that,'” she said.
She struggles to find field service technicians, who visit clients to help fix problems, install cranes, perform maintenance, troubleshoot or do inspections.
While the company looks for technicians with a background in either electrical, mechanical or structure skills, electricians in particular are the most difficult to find, Arnio said.
While they prefer experience, Arnio said G.W. Becker is considering hiring an apprentice to work with a senior employee.
But she said that right now, one of the ways she finds good help are the current employees who recommend candidates for open slots.
“We have people who refer people all the time, which helps,” Arnio said. “And they would not want to refer someone likely to disappoint, since that would reflect negatively on them.”
Wheatland Tube is also always looking for those good employees.
The company currently employs 294 hourly workers. It is looking for two more electricians and two hourly laborers.
The biggest struggle, said Rachel Cyphert, human resources manager, is filling jobs in the craft area, such as skilled trades, electricians and machine lathes.
The goal is to find experienced help to take on the more skilled jobs, but Cyphert said there are opportunities at Wheatland Tube for those who are just starting out as well.
“We have had quite a few kids out of high school without much work history,” she said. “But we could vet what kind of skills they will have based on how they answer the questions and how they have done in high school.”
Replacing retirees is expected to be a struggle, Cyphert said. About 60 of the company’s 294 employees started in or prior to 1990. Thirty of those 60 started in 1978 or earlier. Most employees send in their retirement letter when they hit 30 years.
“Maintenance guys tend to get worn out quicker than a laborer because they are crawling all over the floor, up ladders to the cranes or crawling up into the equipment,” Cyphert said.
One of the biggest challenges, she added, is that Wheatland Tube is a swing-shift facility.
“It is not appealing to folks who haven’t worked it before,” Cyphert said. “Some of our maintenance people came from RG Steel or WCI Steel, so the guys coming here were familiar with the schedule and have already worked it. But a lot of people want to work Monday through Friday, 8 to 5 or 7 to 3.”
But what attracts employees to Wheatland Tube is a steady paycheck.
Starting salaries are $14.35 an hour, with much higher amounts for those who come in for a craft or professional position.
Good benefits and progressive raises also make the company a good place to work, Cyphert said.
“The schedule sounds kind of rough out of the gate, but there’s a reason I have 60 people employed here for 25 to 30 years or more,” she said. “We have a lot of guys whose spouses don’t work, and they are able to provide a living for an entire household.”
NLMK Pennsylvania is proud to offer the same good living and benefits for local workers — and is also looking to fill more than a few positions.
The company has 783 employees at NLMK Pennsylvania and Sharon Coating. Currently there are 36 openings at NLMK Pennsylvania in Farrell and two positions at the Sharon Coatings plant.
“We continually look for operators and skilled maintenance employees such as electricians, millwrights and fabricators,” said Olga Barodzich, communications specialist with NLMK USA. “Another group of positions we typically look for are professional positions that range from procurement to human resources, operations and sales.”
Skilled industrial maintenance employees and quality and process engineering positions are the hardest to fill, she said.
The company requires a stable job history and a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent for its hourly positions and a college degree and relevant years of experience for the professional openings.
“We offer a comprehensive compensation and benefits package,” Barodzich said.
Assistant Editor for News Eric Poole contributed to this report.
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