SKILLS GAP: Swissline President David Chenevert says that he’s currently unable to expand the business because he can’t find enough skilled labor.
PBN PHOTO/DAVID LEVESQUE
HANDS ON: A group of manufacturing companies, including Swissline Precision Manufacturing, have decided to become more involved in seeking support for increased training for workers. Above, Jason Forte, a Swissline employee, inspects surgical equipment made at the firm’s Cumberland facility.
It’s a recipe for economic stagnation business leaders in Rhode Island know only too well – companies with jobs open, a lack of skilled workers to fill them and a stubbornly high unemployment rate, currently at 10.4 percent.
A small group of manufacturing executives have decided they need to do more than just make do with isolated, in-house training. They’ve banded together in an effort to speed up statewide training for manufacturing jobs.
“We formed a group called Manufacturing Skills for Rhode Island,” said Dave Chenevert, president of Swissline Precision Manufacturing in Cumberland. “We’re working collaboratively to come up with a game plan and solve this issue. We … realize we need to be part of the solution.”
Chenevert does the hiring in his company. With 59 employees, he’s looking for a few more.
“I would hire two or three individuals who can walk in the door and be able to program the machines and work independently,” he said. The company manufactures precision component parts for aerospace, medical and commercial industries.
“These machines are very complex,” he said. “You need to have math skills. You need to understand programming. We know these individuals are hard to find.”
Chenevert isn’t just looking to fill open jobs and maintain the status quo.
“If I had qualified labor, I could expand my second shift,” he said. “I can’t even grow my business because I can’t find qualified personnel.”
Swissline Precision Manufacturing had a second shift a few years ago, prior to the recession, but the lack of trained workers convinced Chenevert to invest in improvements in machinery, rather than waiting, sometimes in vain, for skilled employees.
The half-dozen members of Manufacturing Skills for Rhode Island, formed in October, are taking their sense of urgency directly to leaders who can help get the word out that advanced manufacturing is a clean, high-tech environment offering solid career opportunities.
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