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Manufacturers hope to enlist young adults
Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce seeks to close gaps, create a sustainable workforce
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Arielle Holland, 18, a Johnson High School senior, heat shrinks over connectors on 26A thermostats Thursday at Baldor Electric. Following graduation in May, Holland plans to pursue a degree in business. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Tough. Dirty. Low-paying.

Those are just a few of the things

Arielle Holland had in mind when she first considered taking a job at Baldor Electric Company, a manufacturer with a plant in Flowery Branch.

“Before I worked here, I had a very stereotypical view of factories in my head,” said the 18-year-old Johnson High School senior.

Stereotypes, however, are meant to be upended. With experience, reality replaces the cliche.

And so Holland has found the industry rewarding in many ways.

“I really enjoy my job here,” she said.

Manufacturing isn’t what it used to be in the United States, but young students and workers like Holland show a promising future for the industry.

That’s not to say the quality of manufacturing suffers. To the contrary, “Made in America” still holds cache.

But perhaps no other industry has been hit harder by the economic recession, outsourcing and subsequent job losses in the past decade.

One-third of all manufacturing jobs were shed between 2000 and 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And depending on various counts, between five and six million industry jobs were lost over the last 15 years.

Today, the industry employs about 12 million people, or about 10 percent of the nation’s workforce, according to the BLS.

Job losses, however, aren’t the only sore spot in the industry. 

With an aging and retiring workforce, many in the manufacturing sector are looking to the future with a cautious eye.

“There’s not a motor manufacturing pool of employees out there,” said Mike Holman, Baldor plant manager.

The need for skilled workers is greater than ever, particularly with technological advances, and as demand for services grows, so too does the hole in the manufacturing workforce.

About one-quarter of all workers in Hall County are employed in some kind of goods-producing job, according to the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, making it a critical backbone of the local economy.

To understand just how great the need is for new talent, the Chamber created a workforce development task force in the last year, and part of the group’s job included a thorough survey of local manufacturing companies.

The results were revealing, though not all unexpected.

The biggest complaints from companies included the lack of qualified applicants, and succession planning is a major concern as businesses look forward.

Of 58 local manufacturers that participated in Chamber’s survey, 25 percent reported not employing high school students, but showed interest in doing so.

Shelley Davis, the Chamber’s vice president of existing industry, believes high school students are an untapped resource in Hall County, and the Chamber is committed to removing barriers between employers and this pool of workers, she said.

But a major hurdle is convincing companies to take a chance on young workers.

According to the Chamber’s survey, companies reported job readiness as the biggest reason why they were hesitant to hire students.

“They’re trying to create a sustainable workforce,” Davis said. “They don’t just want warm bodies.”

But a natural pipeline is in place to connect students and manufacturing companies.

The Chamber is seeking ways to interest young applicants and established companies, while involving local school systems through work-based learning programs, which allows students time to hold down jobs and receive credits while attending school.

About 800 students in the county participate in work-based learning programs, but just 2 percent have jobs in manufacturing.

Davis said the Chamber’s next steps include changing perceptions about manufacturing, just like those once held by Holland.

She said she hopes to grow enrollment in the local manufacturing sector among high school students by 2 percent over the next year or so.

The Chamber is also encouraging manufacturing businesses to sponsor school clubs and host tours of their facilities for students, something Baldor Electric has done.

If local manufacturing companies are committed hiring and training young workers interested in a career path, Holland shines as an example of the possible benefits.

Baldor builds industrial motors for a variety of uses. The motors can range in size from a soup can to half a car length, with up to 12,000 horsepower.

“Most of them you’ll never see in your life,” Holman said.

Baldor’s top clients include the oil and gas industry, as well as the U.S. Navy, which uses Baldor motors on warships.

Holman said he started working for Baldor in a seasonal role as a college student nearly 30 years ago, working his way up from the production line to plant manager.

So he understands the importance and value of young, educated workers like Holland.

“So for us, taking a blank slate is really a good thing,” he said, adding that Baldor has long been committed to training and employing high school and college-age workers.

Holman said Holland’s work ethic, enthusiasm and willingness to learn are bright spots for the company.

And it’s evident among her co-workers, who love hearing about her interests, or relish a little fun gossip about what color hair Holland will have from day to day.

But it’s not just companies like Baldor that benefit.

Holland said she was working 50 hours a week at Kroger before starting her manufacturing job, which pays more, has better hours and provides her invaluable education for a career in a field she excels at.

Holland said she has learned about business management, production and assembly, all of which prepare her for future studies.

Holland will graduate from Johnson High in May, and has been accepted to the University of North Georgia, where she will enroll in the fall.

Holland said she plans to pursue studies in business management, and also her passion for theater and film.

And when school ends and the day comes to enter the working world for good, Holland said her experience at Baldor, not to mention the good pay, has opened options for a career path.

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity I have here,” she said.