Manufacturers must up the ante to attract, retain good employees



April 2, 2018 - 11:00 PM

America’s breadbasket is feeling it has nothing but crumbs when it comes to available employees.

Unemployment across the country’s midsection is a full percentage point lower than that on the coasts. In Kansas, unemployment is at 3.4 percent; that of the entire country is 4.1 percent.

Manufacturers in these parts bemoan the fact workers aren’t knocking down their doors.

A story in Monday’s Wall Street Journal highlights Stellar Industries, a manufacturer of commercial trucks in Garner, Iowa, population 3,000.

With 450 employees, CEO Dave Zrostlik said current production is 10 weeks behind schedule.

Zrostlik says a lack of bodies, more than skills, is his problem.

WHAT the article conveniently skirts — after all, the WSJ is the paper of choice for bigwigs — but what readers were only too happy to point out is that factories in rural America aren’t willing to sweeten the pot with good pay and benefits to make locating here worthwhile.

Unskilled labor in the Midwest typically pays $11-$15 an hour, half as much as in Houston or other competitive markets. And that’s not even mentioning their benefits packages that typically include health insurance contributions for the entire family and a six-week family leave for when a new baby arrives.

So why do we act surprised when our children look elsewhere? Don’t they appreciate our expansive vistas and 5-minute commutes?

To millennials, those aren’t necessarily attractive attributes.

The answer? Unfortunately, it’s a double-edged sword.

Demand an increase in wages and you run the risk of your higher-ups moving jobs to Mexico, as in the case of Haldex. And no, not even President Trump can prevent those decisions.

On the other hand, if we don’t pay better wages, workers will go where the jobs pay better and are more plentiful.

What could help either scenario is if government took on a bigger role helping private businesses provide health insurance and family leave.

Employers know these things make for a happier and healthier workforce, but are unable, or unwilling, to adequately pay for them.

What also will force the issue is the increased competition presented by Orizon Aerostructures in Chanute where starting pay outstrips local wages.

The lesson is that the status quo is not working and unless we are willing to compete for good employees, then they’ll opt for those who do. Today, they hold the cards.

— Susan Lynn