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Help wanted: No shortage of manufacturing jobs in southcentral Pa.

Written by Lindsey Welling and Lillian Reed/The Evening Sun | Sep 29, 2017 11:54 AM
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Hanover High School graduate Gage Bartlett has been working at Riley Welding in Hanover for about the past three months. After seeing the need, Hanover and South Western High Schools added Pennsylvania Department of Education approved welding programs, which provides students with the education and skills to enter right into careers after high school. (Photo: Ty Lohr, The Evening Sun)

(Hanover) -- Welding isn't the career 2016 Hanover High school graduate Gage Barlett thought he would go into.

"If you didn't grow up in that field, I don't think you'd ever notice it," said Bartlett, who has been working at Riley Welding in Hanover for about the past three months.

Gary Laird, president of the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, said many students are steered away from careers in this field and pushed toward college.

"How many incoming freshman in high school are told, 'You are good with your hands, have you considered machining?'" Laird said. "Those conversations don't happen."

Manufacturing is one of the largest industries in Pennsylvania, employing 559,286 people, and is the largest employer of the workforce in Adams and York counties, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Statistics.

At the end of June, two separate companies in the Hanover area, Snyder's-Lance and Glatfelter, announced plans to cut a combined 270 positions from locations across the country.

From July 2016 to July 2017, Pennsylvania lost about 2,700 employees in manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state saw a drastic decrease from January 2008 to January 2010, when the number of employees fell from 654,400 to 557,200.

Hanover High School senior Gage Bartlett will graduate with a diploma, NOCTI certification in welding and an internship at Riley Welding in Hanover. Lindsey Welling, The Evening Sun

But Tom Palisin, the executive director of The Manufacturers' Association, a regional trade association based in York, said there isn't a shortage of jobs in the market. In fact, there are a lot of jobs going unfilled in the manufacturing sector because employers can't find the right skilled workers in a small candidate pool.

There aren't enough skilled manufacturing jobs, such as welders, machinists, industrial maintenance, quality technicians, engineers, he said, adding that this is long-term structural problem statewide and and nationally.

"One of our member company employers just said the other week that he's hiring a (chief financial officer) and got 40 resumes," Palisin said. "The manufacturing job he was hiring for was a quality manager, and he got two resumes. Some of these skills, the candidate pool is very small. I don't know if those two people were qualified."

The shortage of skilled workers can be attributed to several causes, he said.

To start, the manufacturing industry has acquired something of a negative stigma among recent generations. Only a small amount of Generation X workers are interested in the profession, Palisin said.

"For the past 20 to 30 years, the impression has been it isn't a career," he said.

Another cause Palisin attributes to is automation, which leads to an increase in the level of training and skill required to perform the jobs.

Of course manufacturers are hiring more as the economy improves. However, as new employees fail to join the industry, the average age of the workforce creeps higher.

The Manufacturers Association has partnered with a number of organizations, including the Hanover Chamber of Commerce and the York County Economic Alliance, to show high school students during manufacturing week that the industry is worth investigating further as a career option. 

"It's high-tech, it's high paying, it's a cool, interesting career," Palisin said of the initiative's focus on the industry. "I think almost every school in York County is participating in that program."

The national average salary for the manufacturing sector in 2016 ranged from $28,250 to $65,120, depending on the position, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. York County's average salary for manufacturing positions was $56,933 in 2016 and Pennsylvania's was $59,804, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.

In the past, students have gone on tours of the manufacturing facilities followed by a discussion session, where employees talked about the importance of all the business's sections -- finances, environmental health and safety science, food science and sales, The Evening Sun previously reported.

Bartlett said he is the youngest worker at Riley Welding. Millennials made up 34 percent of the workforce in 2015, 34 percent were Generation Xers and 29 percent were Baby Boomers, according the Pew Research Center.

After seeing the need, Hanover and South Western High Schools added Pennsylvania Department of Education approved welding programs, which provides students with the education and skills to enter right into careers after high school.

"There's so much industry in Hanover," Hanover High School Principal Catherine Houck said. "There's a population of welders retiring, and no one to replace them."

Last year, Hanover added a National Occupational Competency Testing Institute certification in welding and this year, in partnership with the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, added a pre-apprenticeship program.

Structured around their high school curriculum, students will also get to work within one of four manufacturing companies -- R.H Sheppard, KLK Welding, Utz and Elsner Engineering.

"We are extremely lucky and probably pretty rare that CEOs and owners of local businesses have the cell phone numbers of teachers within a school district," said David Harnish, the transition coordinator at Hanover High School. "The direct pipeline is there."

Bartlett was part of the first class to graduate with NOCTI credentials.

"This is a very viable career with potential for a really good salary," Houck said.

Top 10 employers in York County

This information comes from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages data for the fourth quarter of 2016.

  • York Hospital
  • Federal government
  • York County
  • Walmart Associates Inc.
  • WellSpan Medical group
  • Giant Food Stores L.L.C.
  • WellSpan Health
  • Cwork Solutions L.P.
  • Hanover Hospital Inc.
  • BAE Systems Land & Armaments L.P.

This story is part of a partnership between WITF and The Evening Sun.

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