The challenge of finding jobs for the unemployed in manufacturing, as in many industries, is complicated by an apparent mismatch between job openings and qualified workers.
In the first quarter of 2012, there were 13 job listings on the EmployRI website for manufacturing engineers and only one Rhode Islander collecting unemployment who identified with that occupation, according to a report from the R.I. Department of Labor and Training, which operates the site. That 13-to-1 opening-to-worker ratio was the third highest for any profession listed on the site, behind doctor, 44 to 1, occupational therapist, 191 to 1, and physical therapist, 270 to 1.
Further down the list, there were twice as many listings for “milling and planing machine setters, operators & tenders,” 12, as there were unemployed job searchers in those areas.
More balanced were the nine listings for “lathe and turning-machine tool setters, operators & tenders, metal & plastic” versus seven out-of-work practitioners.
But while some manufacturing positions with specific skills show hardly any applicants, on a broader level, 4,002 people who filed for unemployment were in the “production category” that includes manufacturing (as well as baker and dry cleaner) versus 375 openings.
And there were 328 assemblers and fabricators looking for work with only 33 postings.
Explanations for the mismatch range from rising technical demands on the shop floor, to a reluctance of employers to invest in training, to a “skills gap,” between what applicants can do and what companies need.
There are also different plans for how to solve these issues and connect the right workers with the right skills and the right employer.
The Rhode Island Manufacturers Association is targeting the workforce. Executive Director Bill McCourt says there are actually two distinct labor-force challenges facing manufacturers: entry-level candidates lacking the fundamental skills employers need and the impending retirement of highly experienced baby boomers.