Elkhart County workers see fatter paychecks, but are things really better?
Posted: 07/28/2013 at 8:00 am
By: Lydia Sheaks
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Carrera Custom Painting worker Alexis Davila sands the slide-out wall of a recreational vehicle as he prepares the unit to be painted Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. A recent government report showed that wages in Elkhart County have increased almost 9 percent in a year’s time. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Suzy VanderReyden builds cabinets in the Kropf recreational park trailer factory north of Goshen on Jan. 19, 2012. A recent government report showed that wages in Elkhart County have increased almost 9 percent in a year’s time. (Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen)
Pedro Trujillo cuts away excess vinyl as he installs flooring to a unit at Prime Time in Wakarusa Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013. A recent government report showed that wages in Elkhart County have increased almost 9 percent in a year’s time. (Truth Photo By Jennifer Shephard)
Between December 2011 and December 2012, the number of people employed in Elkhart County grew 7.4 percent, much better than the national job growth of 1.9 percent in the same period. Wages for the Elkhart County worker also increased by 8.9 percent. The average weekly wage for the Elkhart County worker in December 2012 was $782.
Ken Julian, vice president of human resources for Thor Industries in Elkhart, said Thursday, July 25, that a combination of the improved RV industry and the economy improving overall has had the greatest impact on wages for Thor employees.
Julian explained that workers at Thor can earn more money by completing more work in the same amount of time. Because the economy has picked up, there’s more work for employees to tackle in order to get that bonus pay.
Dan Gates, owner of Bridge Staffing in Elkhart, said Friday, that he’s seen companies offering better wages for the same types of jobs in the past couple of years.
“Overall, yes, I think wages have gone up,” Gates said. “People are recognizing that in order to get quality folks, they will have to pay more money.”
He said that employers will pay more to get a bigger pool of candidates for an open position. They may also pay more for a worker with more skills.
“You get what you pay for,” Gates said. “It depends on the industry and the work environment, too. Some people would take a 50-cent (per hour) pay cut to be in a better work environment. There’s not much difference between the kind of worker you will get for $10 (per hour) and the worker you will get for $11.”
Gates added that employers want to hire people who are already employed. People who are “just riding out unemployment,” said Gates, are less likely to be hired than an equally skilled person who is working at a fast-food restaurant while looking for a better job.
“(Companies) want to see that you are making that effort (to work),” Gates said.
Jacqueline Barton, owner of Specialized Staffing Solutions in Elkhart, said Friday that she’s not surprised to hear the report that local people are earning more. She said that 60 percent of the employers she works with are paying more for employees than they were two years ago. Area employers, she said, are willing to pay more for an employee that will keep their products going out the door. This is especially true when it comes to manufacturing companies looking for CNC programmers, welders, fabricators and other skilled laborers.
“Now that (companies) are in full operation, you have to keep the machines moving,” Barton said. “You (the employer) are looking at (the situation) and thinking, what’s the price of downtime? That cost is higher than paying the wage (for the right employee).”
She added, “It’s hard to see that things are going well when you still have high unemployment. I really believe that for employees that have good skill sets, or even people that just want to work and are showing up to work, they will see that things are changing.”
Barton said that the recession caused many local families to lose resources such as a second car. Now, even with more jobs available, two adults in the same family may not be able to both work because the family only has one car. Transportation issues, said Barton, are the main problem for many seeking work.
“It’s frustrating because I have a lot of employees who are great workers and I can’t get them to the job that they are qualified to do because they don’t have transportation,” Barton said. “They can’t get the wage they need because they don’t have the resource necessary to get them to work.”
Barton noted that higher pay is happening mostly for skilled manufacturing positions in several different industries.
“In the unskilled labor jobs, you are not going to see movement in wages,” Barton said. “But you can’t drive down the street and not see the signs (for skilled workers). Employees are feeling like they have more of a choice. Companies feel that higher pay is warranted and that this is what the market demands.”
She added, “I don’t have too many employers who say, ‘Give me the lowest wage person.’ They are willing to pay more for the right candidate.”
There are some people in Elkhart County who haven’t seen their wages increase, according to Rod Roberson, director of Church Community Services in Elkhart.
Roberson said Friday people using Church Community Services are still struggling.
“What we are seeing is pretty much no change (in wages) at the entry level,” Roberson said. “If the federal minimum wage stays at a certain level it takes a while for that entry level wage to go up. Some of our clients are taking two or three part-time jobs in order to support their families.”
He said although people may be getting jobs, they are sometimes temporary positions that could take time to develop into what he called a living wage — what the employee needs to support his or her family.
“If you stay (at a job) for any tenure, you have the opportunity to take your wages up,” Roberson said. “In the fragileness of the economy and at the point at which recovery is happening, tenure is so cyclical. Wages, until (people) come off temporary status (at their jobs), are not really growing.”
He added, “The devastation that occurred in our economy is not a quick fix. It doesn’t happen overnight. I wish it would, because the people I see don’t want to be using assistance. They are proud, they want to work, and they just can’t seem to find the situation that will make them whole again. People are really trying to find a way to get it done.”
Roberson said that growing companies are a good sign — one that he hopes will translate into better futures for the people he works with in Elkhart.
“I know my clients are not feeling the increase in wages,” Roberson said. “But I know it has to come as the competitive landscape for companies continues to grow. We are hopeful for ... an increase in wages so our clients will be able to not have to use our services.”
He added, “The resiliency of people is still strong. They are trying to find the right ways to bring themselves back.”