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Valley faces worker shortage amid glut of new jobs

Published: Wed, April 3, 2013 @ 12:01 a.m.


Rocco DiGennaro, business manager at the Laborers’ International Union Local 125 of Youngstown, which represents 400 members throughout the region, discusses the difficulty of finding younger workers interested in the skilled trades.




Managers at the Laborers’ International Union Local 125 on Market Street have a problem: They anticipate a rush of work in the coming months but fear a shortage of workers to meet that demand.

The union, one of 23 such locals statewide, helps union contractors by providing the necessary laborers that help get a construction project up and running, on track and completed. Its members work on highway projects, commercial and residential construction sites and in the oil and gas industry.

Laborers at Local 125, such as Ray Dickson, a veteran of Desert Storm from McDonald, get vital experience across the spectrum, which often helps springboard their careers, landing them in supervisory roles on pipeline projects, well pads and construction sites. What’s more, they’re paid on a wage scale comparable to a journeyman tradesman, and they enjoy full benefits.

“It’s a great opportunity in a bad economy to make real good money,” said Dickson, who learned of the laborers’ union from a friend last summer after losing his job of 14 years at a local tire company when it closed.

Precipitous declines at vocational schools in the last two decades, spurred by a push to encourage more Americans to attend college and a rapidly changing economy in the Mahoning Valley, have left those like Rocco DiGennaro, business manager at the Local 125, scrambling for more younger and older workers alike.

“It’s been mixed. With the way the economy has been here, we were expecting much higher participation,” DiGennaro said. “We didn’t get it. Recently we had 39 applicants. Of those 39, 20 were referred by members’ families. We’ve been looking for more involvement.”

The laborer program has open enrollment, with no fee to apply. Once an applicant becomes a member and starts working, they pay both working and union dues. They’re also trained in classrooms four times per year at a central facility in Millwood where they receive college credit, in addition to on-the-job training.

The union’s current dilemma is a far cry from the throes of unemployment and lack of general work the Valley has witnessed over the years, as it first crawled its way back from Black Monday, when the steel mills began closing in 1977, and then after every recession, both past and present, when the jobless rate hovered well above 10 percent.

If anything, a resurgent regional economy, where the Valley has enjoyed some of the most robust job growth in the state, has presented employers, job seekers and workforce development companies with a new suit of problems.

For Will Shoemaker, 23, of Girard, the oil and gas boom, for example, has meant holding on to the hope that he can soon break into the industry. Since May 2012, he’s been pounding the pavement and trying to get a job at a small or large company involved in production.

Shoemaker has a mechanical background, and last summer he participated in a Retrain America course at Youngstown State University, where he got a primer about working on a drilling rig. He paid $4,000 for the two-week class.

“I’ve applied to more places than I can remember, more than 50 for certain,” Shoemaker said. “[Oil and gas companies] prefer people who have more experience. I’ve gotten some call backs, but for some reason everyone wants you to have a year of experience. Where am I supposed to get it?”

Bert Cene, director at the Mahoning Columbiana Training Association, which administers both counties’ One-Stop programs and specializes in workforce development, said that’s why it’s important for the region to focus on growing its oil and gas supply chain.

“We’re seeing a lot of job orders across the spectrum. What we’re not seeing is companies like Chesapeake coming to us and asking for someone to work on their rigs,” Cene said. “Existing companies, and new manufacturers like Exterran, are asking us for help. To be honest, those kinds of jobs are more sustainable. A well is drilled and done in something like 45 days.”

As the Valley’s manufacturing base changes to accommodate new technologies and new products, employers are left searching to fill vacant jobs. Last year, employment services company Manpower noted in a research paper that a shortage of skilled workers is among the top hiring challenges in six of the world’s 10 biggest economies.

Vic Ing, president of the Alliance Solutions Group of the Mahoning Valley, which provides staffing services across nine industries, including health care, manufacturing and technology, said demand from employers seeking applicants is high in the region, which has posed new challenges for the company.

“There’s strong demand in a few different categories,” Ing said. “Good old manufacturing and warehouse positions for entry level unskilled work is up, but there’s heavy demand for skilled positions in manufacturing right now.”

A big change in recent months, Ing said, is applicants who are employed but looking for work elsewhere.

“People are spending money again, companies have to deliver products and services,” he added. “The economy is in complete recovery mode with demand for products, and that takes additional workers, which aren’t always easy to find. We serve our clients any way we can, but sometimes we’re finding it difficult to give them what they’re looking for.”


1NoBS(2834 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Former, as a college teacher, you should know that state-funded colleges and universities must comply with the whims of Columbus. There is no consistency in their "leadership" - former administrations decreed that funding would be based on how many butts were in classroom chairs. Underprepared or not, more undergrads on campus meant more funding. The current administration is coupling funding to graduation rates. In other words, those never-gonna-graduate students the universities were grabbing up left and right are now a hindrance. That's also why we have expansion in the field of community colleges and other "2-year-degree mills."

And, we're hearing from a lot more than just the education field that computers, IT, and electronics is where the future jobs are. But in this new economy, very few jobs are secure, and jobs that pay well are the target of envy from those who don't have a job that pays well (and even some who do, but seem to think they themselves are the only ones who 'deserve' a decent wage). In another generation or two, things are going to shift, and those who are willing to get their hands dirty are going to be able to name their own price.

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2timOthy(802 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Sell Books like you always do !

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3lumper(301 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

comments by former demliberal are the most sensible and intelligent words i have ever read on this site. that writing, especially the 2nd paragraph should be on the front page of the newspaper every day for a year.

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4peggygurney(408 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Here's a thought - How about the managers at the Laborers’ International Union Local 125 offer TRAINING to people who are not "skilled" but desperately need a job?

Seriously, how do you become a "skilled worker" if no one will hire you so you can get skilled?

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5glbtactivist(321 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

The governor and other politicians who lied about how many jobs would be "created" need to be held accountable. They knew from the experience of other States that those jobs would be filled by the companies with cheap labor brought to the State, not local workers. Just this week, the company that is doing ground testing brought in 300 workers from Texas.

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6Ytownnative(1121 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Peggy you hit the nail on the head. Look at the companies that are hiring and they all want years of experience

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7walter_sobchak(2727 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

College is higher education, not job training as those in college admission offices want kids to believe. It is sad that the skilled trades have been demeaned over the last few decades. High school guidance counselors tell kids that the only way they will "succeed" in life is to have a college degree. We will always need plumbers, electricians, masons, carpenters, welders, etc. - people that are good with their hands and do good work. Yet the skilled trade unions beg for people to enter their apprenticeship programs. Sure, it can be hard work but the rewards are worth it. College is not for everyone.

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8busyman(239 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I think some of the blame should be put on the parents for not preparing their children to select a vocation for themselves for future careers. The parents for the last 2 decades have been telling their children that they should not work in labor intense jobs. You were raised in a middle income family to go to college, party, have fun because you have the rest of your life to work. I had friends that worked at GM or Delphi who kids thought that they were entitled to work in these companies and earn a living equal to the life style that their parents made them acustom too. Now that the high paying brain dead factory jobs are dead and having a skill is necessary to be employed. This texting, i-phone and vidieo generation is not even prepared to fill a skill labor intense required job. This valley became a magnet for unskilled, poorly trained transients that flooded this area for the cheap housing and the entitlement system of living. The baby makers, drug taker and highschool drop outs do not care about future career. I do not want to learn how to fish, "Just feed me".

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9CongressWatcher(225 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

So whose fault is it that while many people are on YEARS of unemployment benefits, they don't take that time to gain skills? Is it the politicians' fault? Some of those people could have went and volunteered at companies to get free experience. Instead, many did not and took the "woe is me" route. With as much assistance that has been doled out over the past four years, we should have skilled tradesman everywhere. Just my thoughts. You can't blame the government for everything.

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10anothermike(227 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Time was when there were apprentice programs, wages at a lower rate until you became a journeyman in whatever trade or field. Aside from the fact that none of it was very rewarding, today's employers expect folks to be born with those abilities since they are not willing to pony up any money for training programs.........

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11busyman(239 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

Whinersarewieners. People like the Peggys are waiting for an on line school to learn how to drive a truck or operator heavy equipment. If you walk into any tradeschool or technical school in the valley they will find a way for you to get money. This money my come in the form of a loan. If anyone is serious about retraining any opportunity would be welcomes unless they are the ones waiting for the $30.00 an hours shooting screw jobs like at GM. Oh that is right they only pay $16.00 an hour for the unskilled jobs and from what I hear from old timers. They are dying to get in and after a while they can not wait to find a job that they do not have to be tied to a line all day. The Obama phone can be used for calling these institutions or employers and not just for calling for take out and texting. Oh that is right. If they get a good paying skilled trades job they will loose all the entiltlements they get.

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12iBuck(231 comments)posted 3 years, 3 months ago

I see no evidence here of "worker shortage".

In the 1970s and 1980s employers expected to invest in 2-12 weeks of training for new-hires. They didn't demand that unemployed people invest $4K in third pary training which may or may not match the niche desires of the employers.

For STEM fields, for instance, they did not suffer from hyper-credentialism. If you know your stuff, they didn't ask about university degrees, certificates, etc. I'm talking NASA, Dept. of Energy, Chrysler, aircraft manufacturers. (Today, as soon as they learn you're a US citizen, the "recruiters" hang up.)

They were also willing to fly in US citizens from across the state and across the country for interviews, then pay most of the costs and help make the arrangments for relocation of the new-hires.

In 1940 and 1941 they turned tens of thousands of farm laborers at a time into precision machinists within a couple months (though a few without the minimal knack were drummed out).

Looking back at the BLS stats, 20-40 years ago I might have thought $30/hour was a bit extravagant for most such jobs. But with all the government over-taxing, over-spending, and quantitative easing, i.e. inflation, since then, $30/hour would be below the median and not enough to make house payments in some parts of the USA.

We've got millions of unemployed and under-employed people with IQs over 130 and multiple graduate degrees in computer science and/or engineering and/or law. We have unemployed heavy equipment operators, construction laborers, carpenters, biophysicists, script-writers, tool and die makers...

We have a total job dearth of about 31 million (based on monthly BLS employment/population ratios over the last year compared with historical data; we'll see what the latest numbers look like on Friday).

Many people are now unemployed for years, a fair number for a decade or more, but don't have the funds to pay for specific classes ($3K-$10K), transportation to bop around to "networking events" or interviews or to relocate themselves.

Some study on-line docs, use university and public libraries in cities/towns where they have not been locked down (but public libraries usually do not have the latest because it would be too expensive for them to keep up with the latest editions of these more expensive kinds of books and DVDs and such which are obsolete within 18 months). A lucky few live close enough with others in their field to walk to professional/trade gatherings to discuss and hear presentations on the latest, or have tools and materials with which to practice in the basement or garage.

Some have ethical qualms about accepting government hand-outs and loan guarantees (and the attendant privacy violation).

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