This stretch of the Rust Belt might seem like an easy place to find factory workers. Unemployment hovers above 9 percent. Foreign competition has thrown many out of work. It is a platitude that this industrial hub, like the country itself, needs more manufacturing work. But as the 2012 presidential candidates roam the state offering ways to “bring the jobs back,” many manufacturers say that, in fact, the jobs are already here. What’s missing are the skilled workers needed to fill them.
Driving this shortage is the way that automation is transforming U.S. manufacturing. Much of the demand for skilled workers arises because the automated factories demand workers who can operate, program and maintain the new computerized equipment. Many of those who have been laid off can operate only the old-fashioned manual machines.The leap in technology means that many of the workers who once toiled on the old machines, and had become proficient on them, can no longer find jobs. To fill slots, a few manufacturers have turned to hiring candidates who are untrained but have the inclination to work with their hands. Then they train the candidates. Many companies have apprenticeship programs. Hundreds are taking job-specific training.