July 25, 2008

Industry, Government Need to Invest in Job Training

By Joe Napsha, The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Jul. 25--In a building that once housed the boiler and machine shops of a Duquesne steel mill shut down a quarter century ago, U.S. Steel Corp. is training workers for a career in a modern mill.

"The training is much more extensive and more high-tech, and there is a lot more done (training) before a person ever steps onto the plant floor," said Lisa Roudabush, general manager of U.S. Steel's Mon Valley Works, which includes the Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock, Irvin Plant in West Mifflin and the Clairton Coke Works.

Hourly workers undergo a five-week training program that includes instruction on safety, environmental compliance, quality and technology, Roudabush said.

Since January, U.S. Steel has been training employees at its Mon Valley Works Training Hub at the RIDC River Place Industrial Park in Duquesne. The training facility, with classrooms and maintenance and electrical labs, consolidates operations from all three Mon Valley facilities, said Debra Brinney, training manager.

One of those undergoing the training on hydraulic systems is Dave Nickle of Uniontown, a maintenance worker and mechanic at the Clairton plant for the past six years.

"We're learning more jobs and safe procedures," Nickle said.

U.S. Steel, along with so many other manufacturers, has found "there is definitely a need for a skilled work force," Roudabush said. "We have a need for skilled craftsmen" and workers who do mechanical and electrical work.

It's a plea heard often by Lee Taddonio, president of the SMC Business Councils in Churchill, which represents about 550 companies.

There is a need for at least a few thousand trained workers at the hundreds of manufacturers in Western and Central Pennsylvania, Taddonio said.

Training an employee can be an expensive proposition, sometimes costing thousands of dollars, said Daniel A. Krinock, president of Pace Industries Inc. Airo Division, which operates a die-casting facility in the Loyalhanna section of Derry Township. In the case of a smaller company such as the former Airo Die Casting, it's competing for workers against larger Latrobe-area manufacturers such as Latrobe Specialty Steel Co. and Kennametal Inc.

"How much do you lose if you train them and then they go away, but how much do you lose (in productivity) if you don't train them," Krinock asked.

To help companies develop a trained work force, government can lend a hand by resurrecting job-training programs of the 1980s, Taddonio said. Those efforts were subsidized by the government paying part of the wages of a worker undergoing a company's job training program.

Public vocational-technical schools are at a disadvantage when it comes to training the work force, he said, because the computerized machinery used by companies is so expensive to acquire.

"The ideal situation is to have the company do the training. Workers are learning the skills they need to do the job," Taddonio said.

Krinock said there has to be an increase in supply of skilled workers. For that to happen, he said, society has to have a change in attitude toward skilled labor. Not everyone, he said, is suited to go to college.

"We've got to change the perception of manufacturing," Krinock said. "These (machining) jobs are typically in the higher end of manufacturing," offering good wages and benefits, he added.

The state average wage for manufacturing jobs was $48,717 in 2007, while the state's average wage for all jobs was only $41,330, according to the National Association of Manufacturers, a Washington-based trade group representing about 14,000 companies.

Krinock said six high school graduates recently entered the manufacturing world after graduating from a machining program at the Eastern Westmoreland Career Technology Center in Derry. They had jobs waiting for them when they graduated, he said.

"They probably could have graduated 160," and they would have found work, Krinock said.


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