- By Thomas Gnau Staff Writer
Five years ago, the Dayton region’s top in-demand jobs were in construction, manufacturing, health care and trucking.
Today, those jobs still remain high in demand but local companies said the openings are becoming harder to fill as the economy continues to grow.
“There’s definitely a shortage of tradesmen — carpenters, welders, ironworkers, plumbers, anything in the skilled trades,” Jeff Schlarman, a superintendent at Shook Construction Co., said about the construction industry.
The same concern can be seen in other industries in this region, according to state data analyzed by the Dayton Daily News.
State data shows that many of the same employers aggressively advertise online for job applications, month after month. In June, top employers advertising online for workers included: Kettering Medical Center, Booz Allen Hamilton, Dayton Children’s Hospital, Crown Equipment Corp. and Lowe’s.
There were more than 1.000 online ads for truck drivers in June in this region, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. The truck industry as whole listed 12,185 openings in Ohio.
For registered nurse openings, there were more than 660 online ads in the region. In Ohio, there were 72,000 jobs openings in the health industry, the largest need in the state.
The desire to make this community the best it can possibly be is what drove the Dayton Daily News to launch The Path Forward, which is a focused effort on finding solutions to the region’s most important problems. In addition to the economy, the team is investigating ways to tackle the addiction crisis and challenges facing Dayton schools.
Building the future
Shook works with unions to fill their jobs, Schlarman said in an interview at Fairmont High School in Kettering, where the company is working with Touchstone CPM to build a school auditorium. “We call the union, we ask for the help,” he said. “Unfortunately, since there isn’t enough, the halls are empty. There isn’t anybody there right now.”
A full 80 percent of construction firms in the United States report having a hard time filling hourly craft jobs, according to an industry-wide survey released last week by the Associated General Contractors of America.
“Labor shortages in the construction industry remain significant and widespread,” Ken Simonson, AGC’s chief economist, said in a statement. “The best way to encourage continued economic growth, make it easier to rebuild aging infrastructure and place more young adults into high-paying careers is to address construction workforce shortages.”
That’s what companies say they’re trying to do — talk with high school students, their parents, teachers and guidance counselors.
“We are investing resources that we’ve never invested before in the area of marketing,” said Matthew Szollosi, executive director of Affiliated Construction Trades Ohio, a non-profit established by the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, with union affiliates that represent more than 94,000 trades workers.
Construction companies are busier than they have been in years.
RELATED: VIDEO: What do factory workers do? Watch inside two local plants
“The industrial development that we’re seeing along with the heavy highway work …is virtually unprecedented,” Szollosi said. “We’re very thankful for the opportunity to go to work every day.”
But those jobs can’t be completed without skilled workers. In the immediate term, there are a record number of apprentices enrolled in four- and five-year trades education programs, Szollosi said.
“We are investing extremely heavily in apprenticeship programs,” he said. Statewide, ACT Ohio will invest nearly $60 million in apprentice training statewide.
And industry representatives visit high schools and vocational schools across the state.
“We’re going to schools, we’re talking to kids in schools, trying to promote the trades,” Schlarman said. “We’re letting them know that it’s OK, you don’t necessarily have to go to college to have a good career.”
ACT Ohio has seen apprentices top out with annual pay reaching six figures after five or six years, Szollosi said. “At this juncture right now, overtime is plentiful,” he said.
Pushing pay up may be one way to draw workers to these professions, said Amy Hanauer, executive director of the labor-focused Policy Matters Ohio think tank.
“Historically, when employers really had trouble filling jobs, the lengths they went to do to recruit new workers — they raised wages, there were often clear career ladders so workers knew it was worth putting in the time to acquire some special skills,” Hanauer said.
Today, some employers perhaps have become used to the idea that they don’t have to raise wages or offer training, she said. That idea is outdated, she argues.
Of the 10 most common occupations in Ohio, many pay less than $22,000 or $23,000 a year, she said.
“Those are wages that are pretty tough to get by on these days,” Hanauer said.
RELATED PHOTOS: Companies struggle to find workers as job market tightens
The work isn’t easy. Apprentices will work at construction sites 40 hours a week under the supervision of a journeyman, then attend multi-hour classes one or two evenings a week, Szollosi said.
But the long-term goal is to open eyes, breaking the stereotype that students have no choice but to commit four or more years to a college.
“We’re doing everything we can to reach out to the guidance counselors across the state,” Szollosi said.
Crown Equipment Corp. consistently appears on the state’s list of the biggest online advertisers for job openings.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth here,” said Randy Niekamp, vice president of human resources at Crown, which employs 4,400 people in the New Breman area, up about 200 from 2017.
That growth is fueled by busy manufacturing and distribution sectors. Crown builds forklifts, lift-trucks and material handling machines.
“When you think about what’s happening with the distribution arena with Amazon, companies like that that are building these big distribution centers, our product is going into those (centers),” Niekamp said.
The company has about 150 openings today. Crown is “vertically integrated” — the business makes about 85 percent of the content of its products, designing, engineering, manufacturing the components to assemble the machines.
Then sales and service branches, such as the one in Vandalia, support the product after it’s sold.
Crown needs skilled trades, machinists, welders, assemblers, information technology specialists for the technology in lift trucks.
“We’re still finding good people, but it’s getting harder and harder,” Niekamp said.
Crown stays connected with vocational school and local high schools. The message to parents and students isn’t complicated — manufacturing offers a good life for more people than they realize.
“Even if they do have college aspirations, if they are working here as a machinist, they can go and get their associate’s degree while they’re working — and we’ll pay for that degree,” he said.
Health care growing
The demand for registered nurses is growing. In fact, employment for nurses, nurse practitioners and related fields is expected to grow 31 percent between 2014 and 2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Julie Vincent, chief nursing officer at Kettering Health Network, sees the need daily. There’s growth in acute care, outpatient nursing, wellness and prevention and other areas.
“We have nurses who are educators and teachers, nurses who are doing research,” Vincent said. “Certainly, there are nurse scientists, as well as the acute care that we think of traditionally as a career pathway — all of those options are growing.”
An aging population requires more complex care. Diabetes, obesity and other conditions require focused treatment, and technology is changing. It’s increasingly common for patients to get advice from nurses over the phone without leaving their homes.
“How technology has expanded has opened up new fields for nursing and medicine,” Vincent said. “Online support and nurse-triage support is definitely an area of growth.”
Elizabeth Long, a Kettering Health Network spokeswoman, noted that hospital networks are growing themselves, with KHN opening new facilities — hospitals, outpatient care centers or medical offices — in Middletown, Troy and Hamilton.
“The network is expanding,” Long said. The network is “looking to where the need is in communities and locating facilities in those communities so that people have closer access to health care.”