Fewer applicants; less training

Somewhere in the quest for job satisfaction, between doing something fun and providing for a family, the latest generation of workers is going to need more training.

Will that come through school or work?

The Rogue Valley Workforce Development Council suggests it will take a tandem effort to train workers for jobs that even now go unfilled because there aren't enough skilled applicants. On one hand, employers are spending more time hiring, but failing to keep employees. On the other, fewer applicants come to the table, because they're trapped in a cycle of underemployment that hasn't allowed them to advance without quitting their jobs.

In past years, government programs attempted to bridge the gap by retraining workers, who may have been displaced by social and geopolitical trends, going through injury rehabilitation or simply unemployed.

That hasn't exactly worked, says Lee Lanphier, a member of a work force committee that wrestled with the issue at length in 2006 and decided to try something new.

"We arrived at the conclusion that there's got to be a better way to do this," Lanphier says. "Business after business said we can't find skilled employees that we need and we don't know what to do anymore."

The "Help wanted" advertising routes that once produced 50 to 200 applicants, now draw handfuls. Worse yet, retention rates have fallen.

"They tell us they're going through 40 people to get one person they can keep," he says. "The federal money we've had has basically been spent to train largely the chronically unemployed — people very difficult to employ for one reason or another. Frankly, that number has shrunk substantially over the past decade to where it's a small part of the work force."

There are about 145,000 working-age people in Jackson and Josephine counties. The work force development group, an amalgamation of business, educational and government agency representatives, spawned PowerUp as a vehicle to develop incremental training to turn the underemployed into well-paid employees. The idea is to match up a worker's interest with a company that provides corresponding work.

Interviews at county and job fairs confirmed the approach was attractive to the target population. Stacie Grier, recruitment coordinator for PowerUp, says there is plenty of untapped potential for the area's manufacturing, health care and construction employers.

"How many thousand people are there in the service sector who could go into manufacturing," Grier asks. "These are people with good work ethics, who don't know who's out there and how to get there."

Grier began meeting with recruits in October and hopes to begin placing early responders next week.

"We talked to a couple hundred people and the feeling was they had tapped out their earning potential at their current job," Grier says. "For the most part, they were people with families at home. They couldn't afford to quit their job and the thought of daytime work and nighttime school when they had families was frustrating."

One need, she says, is for computer numerical control operators, a job that pays a starting hourly wage of $10 to $16. And there's a demand for computerized numerical control programmers as well, positions that pay between $12.50 and $25 hourly.

"Just about every manufacturer has computerized machinery that mills products," Grier says. "A lot of these places don't advertise jobs locally and they're not in the Yellow Pages. People don't know how to find them."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.

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