Labor gap sparks differing opinions

A story about high unemployment and unfilled positions struck a chord with people Monday.

Posted on Oct. 22, 2012 at 1:00 a.m. | Updated on Oct. 22, 2012 at 7:02 p.m.

GOSHEN — Monday’s story about high unemployment and open jobs in Elkhart County struck a chord with people, but a solution to the problem remains unclear.

One thing voiced by many people on eTruth.com and on Facebook was a belief that low wages are at least part of the problem.

“I have two children in their early 20s. Both have jobs and are hard-working, but neither earns enough to pay their own way. That means I’m subsidizing these businesses, and believe me, I’m getting tired of it. Maybe employers just need to pay a living wage,” wrote Terri Clark.

Sana Powers wrote, “I have been underemployed, not insured in retail and health care in the last two years, so this problem isn’t lack of anything except employers taking advantage of their local labor force.” She cited high health-insurance costs, low hours and high fuel costs causing huge problems for workers. “There was no way I could afford their health insurance that was offered because sometimes my hours were not sufficient to cover that cost,” she said.

Larry Miller, a local consultant, wrote, “some of the complaints about skill shortages boil down to the fact that employers can’t get candidates to accept jobs at the wages offered. ‘If you pay them, they will come!’”

Other readers echoed those sentiments, though that may not be all of the problem.

While the manufacturing jobs cited by Ami Butler in Monday’s story were temporary jobs in the $10 to $12 range, they were all full-time jobs that had the option for hiring — including benefits — at the end of a probationary period

Jon Wenger of Genesis Products said Monday his company has found it challenging to hire skilled labor. “Our zero-experience jobs would probably start in the $10 range, anybody who can become a machine operator can move into the $14, $15 range,” and experienced equipment operators make around $18 to $20, he said.

“Pretty much anyone that’s willing to be on time, work hard, give it 100 percent each day we would be happy to hire. We probably would hire 10 people like that today if we could find them,” Wenger said.

Part of that difficulty is because the RV industry pays well and takes the top candidates. “We pay good wages but we’re not at the same level as they’re at,” he said. Genesis has increased its wages instead of lowering them since the recession, but “in general we have lots of people who don’t make it past the first 90 days,” Wenger said.

Meanwhile, people of all ages are still looking.

Kathleen George suggested that employers look to people 55 or older for a consistent work-force. “We’ll show up every day,” said George, who took early retirement a couple of years ago after she was unable to find work.

“Give them a chance, let them prove themselves,” she suggested. “We’re not dead.”

She also suggested that people with mild handicaps could be a good labor source for some employers.

“There are people out here who want to go to work,” she said.

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