Erie Chamber hopes manufacturing job fair will lead to new hires

Erie Chamber hopes manufacturing job fair will lead to new hires

About 18,400 people in Erie County make a living in the industry, according to the Department of Labor and Industry.

But James Grunke, CEO of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, said that number could be much higher.

The challenge is that many of Erie County’s 300 or so manufacturers have to hire people but can’t find them.

And the problem is widespread, said Jake Rouch, vice president of economic development for the chamber, explaining that even Erie County’s largest industrial employer, Wabtec Corp., has more than 100 manufacturing jobs to fill.

Other companies with dozens of job openings include JTM Foods LLC, the nation’s largest producer of snack cakes.

More:Baked in Erie: Local Businesses Claim Most of the Country’s Snack Pie Market

This job fair is a little different from others

Hosting job fairs isn’t usually part of the room’s playbook, but the leaders make an exception.

On Thursdays, the Chamber and the Erie Regional Manufacturing Partnership will host the 2022 Manufacturing Career and Job Fair, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., at the Zem Zem Shrine Club at 2525 West 38th St.

Local companies, including Wabtec, Plastek Group, Industrial Sales and Manufacturing and Eriez Manufacturing, will attend in hopes of finding new employees.

A railroad yard full of dozens of locomotives is displayed at Wabtec Corp., Oct. 21, 2019, in Lawrence Park Township. Wabtec, which bought the former GE Transportation in 2019, has more than 100 local openings.

Grunke is optimistic about the potential for successful career matchmaking.

“If you want a job in production, if you can show up on the 29th, you’re either going to get connected or join a training program. We need people looking for work,” he said.

Rouch said it’s difficult to say for sure how many job openings there are in Erie County’s manufacturing sector. However, he estimates that the county’s 300 or so manufacturers average at least three openings each. That math suggests that close to 1,000 industry jobs are waiting for the right applicant.

“It’s not like we’ve lost 2,000 jobs and there aren’t any vacancies,” Rouch said. “It’s the opposite.”

Grunke explains it this way: “There are (still) 22,000 jobs in the manufacturing industry, but only 19,000 people fill them.”

Jim Rutkowski Jr., general manager of Industrial Sales and Manufacturing in Millcreek Township, a contract manufacturer that works for a large number of companies, said he is optimistic about the chamber-led effort.

According to the chamber, ISM has about a dozen jobs to fill and could potentially add another service if it found enough people.

Industrial Sales and Manufacturing in Millcreek Township will be shown on June 8, 2021. The company is one of many local manufacturers with vacancies.

The hiring process has changed for Erie companies

“We are very hopeful that it will help,” Rutkowski said. “In our case it’s getting a little better, but we’re trying so many avenues to find people. It’s not like it used to be, where you put a newspaper ad or a sign in front of the door and people showed up at your door.”

More:Labor shortage closes, slowing Erie restaurants when business is good

Rouch and Grunke see the career fair as just a first step in what must be a sustained effort.

The chamber is also working to address a larger problem, which is to provide both training and money to train applicants who have an interest in a manufacturing job but lack the right skills.

“You have to have the employers, you have to have the training providers, you have to have the talent pools, then you have the funding,” Rouch said.

People who represent each of those things “have to get into an ongoing dynamic dance,” he said.

In some cases, Rouch said, the demanding environment can make it easier for job applicants to find an education.

“Most of our employers, if someone is ready to go to work and they’re committed, they’ll figure out how to pay for the training or they’ll start some in-house training,” Rouch said.

Jim Martin can be reached at jmartin@timesnews.com.

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