C.A. Vossberg is facing a new predicament: In the next five to 10 years, more than half of his staff is up for retirement, which will leave him with a huge gap in his workforce.
Vossberg is president of Electron Machine Corporation in Umatilla, which employs 21 people. The company manufacturers and designs industrial control instrumentation.
“Our average employee has been with us for 30 years,” he said. “I need to figure out how to replace them.”
The challenge, Vossberg said, will be finding skilled workers living nearby.
“When I do hire somebody, it is a significant investment on the company’s behalf,” he said. “I don’t want them to turn around a year later and go for greener pastures.”
He’s not alone.
Many Lake County manufacturers have problems finding the right workers. It can be difficult to find people with the right job skills, and there is often no program available to train workers who want to fill those positions, according to county officials.
Manufacturers were “actually having to go outside of Lake County to advertise for available jobs,” Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione said.
Seeing the need, Lake Technical Center officials last year proposed building a Center for Advanced Manufacturing that would train workers in manufacturing, machining and welding.
Sen. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, and Rep. Larry Metz, R-Groveland, helped secure $1 million for the center. It is expected to be operational in the fall.
When it opens, the center will provide specialized training in “fabrication, machining including CNC, milling, welding,” among other skills, according to Diane Culpepper, director of Lake Tech.
“The overall mission is to train and prepare the skilled workforce for our region to assist the manufacturing companies that are already here so they can grow, and when their employees leave, we can replace them,” Culpepper said. “We also want to train the skilled workforce available to attract new companies to relocate to Lake County.”
Robert Chandler, the county’s economic development and tourism director, said the center is the beginning of something much bigger.
“When you look from a comprehensive standpoint, this is one piece of a larger strategy, which is really to make Lake County a dominant location in the state for manufacturing,” he said. “The biggest challenge for manufacturers today, especially in Lake County, is finding workers.”
About 6.6 percent of the county’s workforce is in the manufacturing industry, higher than the regional average of 5.5 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
By comparison, in Osceola County, the manufacturing workforce is at 3.8 percent; Orange County is at 4.2 percent and Seminole County is at 6.1 percent.
“Manufacturing is a strength of ours and something we need to go after,” Chandler said.
Manufacturing is the fourth largest jobs category in the county, according to the U.S. Census.
The National Association of Manufacturers reported $37 billion in total output from manufacturing in 2012 in Florida.
Yet Culpepper said local manufacturers struggle to fill positions.
“We haven’t focused enough in this county on training the skilled worker,” she said. “We outsourced a lot of manufacturing.”
A study done by the Manufacturing Institute suggests there is a nationwide shortage of skilled workers.
According to its most recent Skills Gap study, “67 percent of respondents (reported) a moderate to severe shortage of available, qualified workers and 56 percent (anticipate) the shortage to grow worse in the next three to five years.”
Further, the survey indicates “5 percent of current jobs at respondent manufacturers are unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates,” amounting to about 600,000 unfilled positions.
“When asked to look ahead three to five years, respondents indicated that access to highly skilled, flexible workforce is the most important factor in their effectiveness, ranked above factors such as new product innovation and increased market share by a margin of 20 percentage points,” the Institute’s study stated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported “manufacturers added 77,000 net new workers over the course of 2013.”
Even so, the Bureau reported this was the slowest pace of hiring growth since 2009, compared with 154,000 manufacturing jobs in 2012.
Campione said while the center will provide training for job opportunities that are here now, long-term there is an opportunity to “build a foundation that will ultimately attract new companies to Lake because the skills taught at the advanced manufacturing center will be transferable within a variety of disciplines under the umbrella of manufacturing, production and technology.”