CHICAGO (July 14, 2:30 p.m. EDT) — Business is booming and jobs are plentiful, which is music to the ears of processors and the public alike. However, the downside is plastics companies are having a hard time finding and keeping skilled laborers.
That is the largest complaint from 130, or 46.6 percent, of the 279 people surveyed by DuPont at NPE June 20.
The problem seems to loom in North America, where 62.2 percent of those surveyed are based.
For grinding equipment maker Miller Manufacturing Co., based in Turlock, Calif., its neighbors in the computer industry are getting first dibs on the pool of educated workers.
"Silicon Valley tends to suck up the talented people," President Steven Galvin said. "It´s a nice problem to have, though, just trying to keep up with an increasing production schedule."
Sure, business is good, but that also has created the lowest unemployment rate in recent U.S. history, and the unavailability of skilled labor could hold some companies back, said Bob Wilson, engineering director at blow mold machinery maker Uniloy Milacron Corp. of Manchester, Mich.
For smaller processors that cannot compete with the salaries offered by larger corporations, the competition for laborers is fierce, said Tom Feeney, director of development and engineering for Adroit Industries in Holland, Mich.
"The actual unemployment rate is below 2 percent. We are a small manufacturer. It is very, very difficult to find general labor and technical support," he said.
Feeney said his company is combating the problem by offering more exciting and challenging engineering jobs.
With improvements to their plastics curricula, some states are saying help is on the way, but they also are having a hard time finding teachers to fill the void, according to Uniloy´s Bob Wilson, who is the former chairman of the plastics and composites engineering department at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.
As for uniform training, 37.3 percent, or 104 people, believe it is greatly needed, while a slightly larger test group, 40.9 percent, said it is only somewhat necessary.
Bert Gunter, compounding operations leader for the Performance Polymers Division of Honeywell Inc. in Chester, Va., is among those in favor of it.
"Training would be helpful, but what you need is a certification that can be translated across the industry. `The plastics industry´ is a very broad term and includes very diverse markets — and that can be challenging," he said.
Walter Fields, vice president of sales and marketing for DuPont Engineering Polymers in Wilmington, Del., offered a different opinion on the plastics industry´s top challenge. He said developing "solid, trusting relationships" is the key to sustainable growth.
"It´s only through these relationships that we can effectively share the elements of competitive advantage — engineering and manufacturing knowledge, logistics expertise and even market access," he said.
Another challenge facing the plastics industry is the increasing global competition, according to 16.5 percent of those surveyed.
Milton, Ontario-based Garold Automation Inc., which makes customized blow molding machines, is attempting to quash that problem by finding its niche overseas, but the company is having a hard time finding partners.
"To get into any market, you have to have someone there to do the legwork for you," said Gayle Roehrig, a controller for Garold Automation. "It´s hard to find people who are as enthusiastic as we are."
Despite plastics becoming more popular in many parts of the world, 71.2 percent, or 198 people, still believe the real opportunity lies in North America. Europe came in at a distant second with 8.3 percent.
Among the hottest end markets are electronics, packaging and medical devices.
"Medical is definitely the market on the upswing. I´m not so sure automotive can go much further than it has already in plastics. But we´re seeing a lot of new products coming up in the medical field," said Harmon Towne, vice president of national accounts at CTB Inc. of Milford, Ind.
Dennis Taylor, regional plastics pallet specialist at Buckhorn Inc. in Milford, Ohio, agreed.
"The electronic and medical markets should significantly grow, especially for pallets," Taylor said.
"About five to six years ago, the growth was in the automotive and food services," he added.