CHICAGO — It's summer now, but some companies would like to send their employees back to school early.
According to a June 17 survey conducted at NPE 1997 by DuPont Engineering Polymers, nearly 45 percent of the 942 respondents believe finding and keeping skilled workers is the most pressing challenge facing their businesses today. A similar survey taken at NPE '94 did not show any one outstanding concern by employers, with only 24 percent of the 345 respondents voicing worry about keeping skilled employees.
``The low unemployment in the [United States] makes it a challenge to find qualified people,'' Erik Fyrwald, director of engineering materials for DuPont Automotive in Troy, Mich., said in a post-show telephone interview.
The challenges of education and global competitiveness are ``very related,'' Fyrwald said.
``With the increasing sophistication of the processes, the increasing sophistication of the parts and the increasing sophistication in the use of information technology tools, you need increasingly capable people to run and operate your plants,'' he said. ``With the competitive pressures, we need to involve fully all of our employees as businesspeople with areas of specialty, and that requires more skills and education.''
According to Mark Brown, vice president of NPE exhibitor Burger Engineering Inc. of Olathe, Kan., it is ``becoming more difficult to find skilled people.''
Burger is a metalworking firm that makes special machines, precision injection molds and computer numerically controlled machining equipment. The company offers an apprenticeship program and works closely with the National Tooling and Machinery Association of Fort Washington, Md., to teach machining skills.
The DuPont poll found that 80.6 percent of the respondents believe training and certification are greatly or somewhat needed for shop-floor workers.
``In-house training costs and mobility of people cause manufacturers to spend lots of time training people, and then [those people] leave. This way all employees would be at the same level,'' said Hank Bornhoff, sales manager for Future Design Inc. of Brampton, Ontario, an auxiliary equipment manufacturer.
Lou Borrelli, customer service manager of Polyshot Inc., said, ``Certification is significantly needed in our industry.
``It would help the industry if all workers were doing certain things and were schooled in the same knowledge about machining and processes. More education is needed, and certification could help lead to some of that. There are more advantages to both the company and its customers if workers are trained correctly.''
Polyshot, based in Henrietta, N.Y., makes runnerless molding systems.
However, one category of respondents did not name keeping skilled employees as the top challenge for their businesses. Global competition concerned 25.4 percent of suppliers of resins, compounds and additives; only 19.2 percent worried about skilled workers.
Nearly 61 percent of the poll's total respondents believe North America offers their companies the most potential for growth of any region worldwide.
``So much is going on right now in North America, especially in Mexico and the United States,'' said Steven Dively, national sales manager of industrial coatings maker Armaloy Corp. in Dekalb, Ill. ``In our business, it's here where we need to concentrate our efforts.
``If I had to rank other markets important to us, I'd say that Asia is second and Europe is third,'' he said. ``But in my viewpoint, North America has the most opportunity for us. It keeps our facilities busy.''
Notably, only 3.8 percent of respondents are worried about environmental compliance, making that issue their least concern, according to the DuPont poll.
But Dave Brown, vice president of operations at Palmer Paint Products Inc. in Troy, Mich., considers environmental issues to be some firms' greatest challenge.
Palmer uses mostly polyethylene to package its arts and crafts paints, but it also uses PET and polystyrene.
``We are worried about how long it will be before we are required to use other materials or we will need to use more recycled [products],'' Brown said.
``A few years ago, Wal-Mart had a whole section for recyclable materials. We thought that everyone would pick up on that and it would hurt market share or shelf placement, but it went away,'' he said, adding that he still worries about that push coming back.
DuPont polled the respondents during the NPE 1997 show, which ran June 16-20 in Chicago.