The funny thing is, Van Dam said, that a skilled machine operator makes more than a designer. Pay for skilled operator-programmers runs from $18 to $28 per hour; the designers upstairs make $14 to $24.
Matt Bickel, a barrel-chested welder with an Indianapolis Colts sweatshirt, safety glasses, boots and stained jeans, echoed other workers on the factory floors here when asked how there could be a shortage of factory workers.
“A bunch of lazy Americans don’t want to get their hands dirty anymore,” he said. “They want an office job.”
New recruiting tactics
The shortage has forced firms to adopt new tactics.
To fill slots, a few manufacturers have turned to hiring candidates who are untrained but have the inclination to work with their hands. Some recruiters said they like to find people who like to fix dirt bikes and snowmobiles. Then they train the candidates. Many companies have apprenticeship programs.
At the new Siemens plant in Charlotte, officials tested 2,000 of these applicants for every 50 openings. About 10 percent passed, and the field was then winnowed through interviews.
Hundreds are taking job-specific training. The company has even arranged with Central Piedmont Community College to develop a “mechatronics” curriculum with an associate’s degree.
“We knew that we were not going to find the people with the right skills right off the streets,” said Mark Pringle, director of operations at the plant. “So we tried to find people with the right aptitudes.”
The shortage of skilled workers has also pushed up wages, though executives said raising them too far could push more work to overseas plants.
A Michigan company that makes camshafts for cars, as well as farm and mining equipment, has had ads out for at least six months for CNC machine operators and programmers. The pay runs from $15 to $21 an hour, a relatively good wage in this part of the country.
“The problem is as soon as we get someone in, one of our other guys will jump ship,” said Tyson De Jonge, engineering manager at Engine Power Components. “They get better offers.”