Proof that plastics is a hot, job-producing industry was again evident at Plastics USA. The 35-plus regional economic development booths lining the aisles of the recent Chicago trade fair sent that message loud and clear. The show's co-sponsor, the Society of the Plastics Industry Inc., also had an important message at its Molders Division booth: the first public showing of what the trade association wants to become a national employee certification program for injection molding (and eventually other processor) workers.
The two have much in common.
Down every aisle booths called for plastics firms to consider Virginia, Oklahoma, Ohio - even Germany.
Three trade magazines that cater to the site selection crowd exhibited in Chicago. .
They all spoke about infrastructure, utility prices and tax breaks. And, if asked, officials from most states can brag about a pretty low unemployment rate right now. But what about that?
The difficulty in finding skilled factory workers in any industry has been well-documented. Leo Nelson, industrial relations manager at Hoffer Plastics in Illinois, said in a Sept. 2 CNN ``Moneyweek'' interview that his firm has raised wages, increased benefits and advertised heavily for factory workers.
``Recruiting is a way of life here,'' Nelson said. ``We're always looking for people almost all of the time.''
The nationwide labor shortage in manufacturing and technology has companies asking tough questions about worker availability before opening new plants. Plastics industry personnel directors know the story well, which has a different twist than, say, metalworking, because there are too few technical school or college programs that teach plastics skills. Even in areas where formal training does exist, plastics processors struggle with how to keep bright, promising employees.
Wages at many small custom molding plants are fairly low, and that places them in competition for workers with other light industry and the service sector.
Creating a training program, with pay tied to how much an employee knows, is the wave of the future in all industry. A number of processors have created some innovative in-house programs. Unfortunately, too many still train by the seat of their pants.
A national employee certification program will help fill in the gaps and provide answers. SPI, using its previously reported plan, wants to create several skill levels for molding employees, with standard tests a person must pass to move up.
SPI Molders Division officials hope to have tests for the first two job levels available by early 1997. The complete certification structure is still several years away, and SPI is raising money now to continue the work. The entire injection molding industry should support a quality certification program.
A recognized certification program would help standardize the current patchwork of plastics teaching programs by listing, for the first time, an agreed-upon, detailed list of skills required for real-world jobs in plastics factories, from California to Maine.
That certainly will be welcome news for processors, those wanting a career in plastics, and economic development officials who have to answer tough questions about available workers.