Workforce drying up, analyst says
Brain drain makes it hard to fill manufacturing jobs
A shrinking labor force in Mesa County is hobbling efforts by manufacturers to expand, company representatives said Thursday at the Western Colorado Manufacturing Alliance Summit.
The difficulties also relate to competition from other industries and other regions of the country, officials said, but it’s also clear that many of the people who made up the workforce in Mesa County as recently as 2008 are simply no longer in the Grand Valley.
“Many of these people left or are in North Dakota,” said Eric Goertz, chairman of the alliance, referring to instances in which people with technical knowledge and expertise commute from the Grand Valley to energy-industry hotspots elsewhere.
The Mesa County labor force shrunk by about 7,000 people, or 8.6 percent, from the beginning of 2009 to January 2012, according to state figures.
There is something of a catch-22 at work, Goertz said, noting that it was perhaps more difficult to find employees when the energy boom was at its hottest.
Now, however, people with technical skills are being drawn to Arizona, Texas and other states better known for their industrial base, said Paul Kobishop, vice chairman of the manufacturers alliance.
Mesa County’s employment base does include skilled people, “but the skills they have are not the skills we need,” said Kobishop, also the director of quality at Reynolds Polymer Technology Inc., the Grand Junction-based maker of aquariums and acrylic and resin sheets.
“We’ve got a great engineering school, but the graduates for some reason don’t seem to stay in the area,” Kobishop said.
The difficulty of finding and hiring qualified help prompted the industry to fire up an internship program and support efforts in middle and high schools to encourage students to consider math, science, technology and related fields.
An internship program for manufacturing is in place and the association has turned to even younger people in hopes of training a qualified workforce.
“We’re pushing into high school and middle school,” encouraging students to look to science, technology, engineering and math training, said Goertz, also vice president for operations at Capco Inc.
Education is key to developing a workforce in the county, said Mike Sneddon, president of Wren Industries in Grand Junction.
What once were highly technical tasks reserved for engineers are now basic functions, Sneddon said.
“It’s not what your grandfather did,” Sneddon said.