Area employers enthused about prospect of new technical schools

Sunday, June 26, 2016
Jake Mayfield of Jackson practices vertical welding Jan. 11 in a welding class at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center.
Fred Lynch

Between an announcement of Ranken Technical College opening a campus in Perryville, Missouri, and business leaders joining together at the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center, one thing is clear: There is a lack of technically skilled workers in the region.

Local businesses report a skills gap that spans a large number of occupations and areas of expertise, and they find difficulty filling those positions.

To explore the possibility of expanding technical education in Southeast Missouri, the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce ran a survey to determine skill areas local businesses were having difficulty filling.

Responses were varied. They included electrician and technology, automotive technology, welding, industrial electricity, heating and air conditioning, automotive collision and heavy equipment.

Many area businesses have job openings but no one to fill them.

Paul Findlay, director of preconstruction for Robinson Construction, said his company needs a variety of skilled workers.

“Pretty much any construction trade education would be beneficial,” Findlay said, though he indicated pipe fitters and pipe welders are the most in demand.

Fred Ducharme, senior general manager of TG Missouri in Perryville, said his company is searching for workers skilled in machining, mechanics, electrical work, robotics, fixture design, general automotive and equipment design.

“We are hurting greatly,” Ducharme said.

The need for skilled workers at TG Missouri was exacerbated by a need for unskilled labor several years ago. To remedy the situation, they switched to more automation, which required more skilled workers. The need for skilled employees in the region forced the company to move jobs from Perryville to another plant.

Mondi in Jackson also is seeking workers trained in a variety of fields, most specifically those with mechanical and electrical skills and troubleshooting abilities.

Birdie LeGrand of Mondi said since October, the company has been in a constant state of hiring. The shortage of workers often means employees are “stolen” from other manufacturing businesses in the area.

“There’s just not enough to go around,” LeGrand said.

Though organizations and industries in the region have joined in an effort to bring technical colleges to the region, businesses in the meantime created on-the-job training programs and continuing-education incentives to grow their own workers, though the consensus seems to be it’s not ideal.

“Companies will take in people and train them themselves,” Mike Berry of Missouri Job Center said. “But there’s no guarantee the employees will stay.”

The cost of taking a skilled employee away from his or her job to train the new one can be a difficult prospect.

“It’s expensive. Especially for small businesses,” Berry said.

Mondi has developed a program allowing some high-school students to work part-time and receive on-the-job training. LeGrand said about 45 full-time Mondi employees are taking continuing-education courses paid for by the company.

Robinson Construction also offers training opportunities.

“We have several apprenticeship-type programs,” Findlay said. “Even though we’re open-shop, we still do on-the-job training to help people progress through their career.”

TG Missouri began a training program called TG University two to three years ago to offer core manufacturing understanding and some basic skilled-trade education.

“But we’re not really in the business to train people,” Ducharme said. “But we’re still going forward with that until Ranken is established.”

Indeed, there is excitement around the impending opening of Ranken Technical College in Perryville.

“We’ll be there to support them,” Ducharme said.

Within Cape Girardeau and Jackson, there is a buzz about the possibility of a state technical school being brought to the region and anticipation of an expansion of the Cape Girardeau Career and Technology Center’s facilities.

“There is a need for technical training. How we go about getting that need here, I don’t know,” LeGrand said. “But we have to do something. We have to address it.”

“We’re certainly excited about the possibility of having more technical education in the area,” Findlay said.

bbrown@semissourian.com

(573) 388-3630

Pertinent address:

2200 Plattin Rd, Perryville, MO 63775

2411 Walters Ln, Perryville, MO 63775

1737 N. Kingshighway, Cape Girardeau, MO 63701

14591 MO-177, Jackson, MO 63755

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