Nearly any prominent manufacturing representative in Chautauqua County will say they can't find employees to fill their open jobs.
It's a damning indictment of the ways schools have failed employers by not developing qualified workers. It is also the most clear example of why the welfare system and job retraining programs have to be retooled.
Yes, the system has failed employers.
Employers have failed themselves, too, by not being vocal enough about solutions.
A recent employability summit, convened by the Rotary Club of Jamestown and attended by more than 80 people, shows the tide is changing.
Employers are looking for people who have enough education to be trained. Manufacturing isn't a good landing spot for those without a high school education. Knowledge of math, computers and robotics is needed as manufacturing operations become more mechanized. Some of that can be handled with existing programs at the Workforce Investment Board, BOCES, the Manufacturing Technology Institute at Jamestown Community College and the Jamestown Public Schools Technology Academy.
Private industry needs to be at the table, however, when existing job training providers are designing curriculum and planning courses. It's difficult to blame the system for not training prospective workers adequately when the training sites don't know exactly how they should be training people. Cooperation between private industry and the public sector is important; a message both sides affirmed at the employability summit.
There is a bigger problem than simply job training that industry must also help solve. Employers still can't find workers who will show up to work consistently. They struggle to find employees who can pass a drug test. Many potential employees struggle to motivate themselves, as signified by the fact only half of those who take the Total Adult Basic Education test pass it. Some employers say they can't find workers with a positive and customer friendly attitude to handle jobs that don't need much education.
The workforce of the 1950s isn't walking through the factory door and it could be decades before society can rebuild the immigrant work ethic that provided the backbone of American industry. Until that happens, employers have to be an active part of the solution through on-the-job training, use of job coaches and development and implementation of a formal system that will help provide soft skills.
It was rewarding to see so many of the area's leading employers at the table with government and not-for-profit organizations at the employability summit. The jobs issue in Chautauqua County is too big for the public sector to tackle by itself. Private industry has to be involved in the process, or its needs will continue to go unmet.