A labor shortage frustrates many in the plastics industry.
The national unemployment rate, now at 4.9 percent, is lower this year than last, and the most recent numbers from the Department of Labor show that unemployment rates in August dropped in 22 states. Compared with the same period in 1996, jobless rates were lower in 42 states.
Cal Eller, president of rotomolder Little Tikes Co. in Hudson, Ohio, says the jobs issue recently was underscored for him when he visited a local McDonald's restaurant. The restaurant, he said, ``was advertising for help at $7 an hour, plus benefits.''
Little Tikes has since adjusted its pay scale upwards to be more competitive.
Another toy maker, Step2 Co. in nearby Streetsboro, Ohio, ranks employee recruitment as one of its most difficult tasks. Wayne Stock, executive vice president, said the firm is challenged to compete for unskilled hourly workers and has an annual turnover rate of 15-20 percent. His general work force is typical of most in the plastics industry in that the employees are young, with an average age of 23.
But there simply are fewer young workers in today's labor pool than 25 years ago, and educational institutions are strong competitors for that cohort. Moreover, the country's declining birth rate ensures that the problem will worsen since the U.S. work force is growing only 1 percent a year.
One clear effect of the supply-demand numbers is their impact on salaries. The Washington-based Society of the Plastics Industry Inc. reported earlier this year that a 1996 hourly-wage survey of 182 member firms showed the industry raised wages 6.4 percent, several percentage points above last year's national average.
The survey shows the average hourly wage for plastics workers has risen to slightly more than $10 an hour. SPI's survey also indicates that hourly wages in the Southeast soared 16.3 percent last year to $10.43 an hour, a noteworthy increase since many firms set up shop in the region to access what they thought would be cheap labor.
At the same time, plastics employers have pushed, through their trade associations, for a uniform testing and certification program for skilled workers, for whom a shortage also exists. But the larger, mostly unaddressed problem seems to be finding workers who will stay around long enough to pick up added skills.
Since technology clearly hasn't provided a satisfactory answer, one way to attack the issue is for firms to move jobs to where the people who need them live — in America's inner cities, where unemployment rates are very high. Remarkably few firms, largely for social rather than economic reasons, elect to go that route.
Though some companies have gone the route successfully, most perceive it to be too difficult, so it is generally left untried.
Henson is a Rocky River, Ohio-based correspondent for Plastics News.