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Monday, Apr 15, 2024

Skilled, Motivated Applicants Scarce

Mission Valley Bank is months away from opening a new branch in Santa Clarita but is already hiring employees to work there, training them at two other branches. If the bank doesn’t strike early in getting qualified people on the payroll, it risks losing them. “There is an investment in time in finding the right person,” said Marianne Cederlind, senior vice president with Mission Valley, which also has branches in Sun Valley and Valencia. Valley-area employers find that this investment of time is necessary because of the current troubling state of the labor pool locally, according to many employers. The pool is serving up applicants lacking necessary skills or qualifications, especially for positions requiring a college degree or some amount of advanced schooling. Some industries manufacturing especially no longer can rely on high school and vocational training programs to provide the kind of trained workers that once filled their ranks. Additionally, employers must deal with a different attitude toward work than what was found a generation or two ago. Job applicants want to know what perks, beyond a paycheck, they receive for choosing one employer over another. “While we’re trying to interview them, they are interviewing us most of the time, finding out about the work schedule,” said Robert Frazier, president of Frazier Aviation, Inc. in San Fernando. This problem exists across many industries and no single answer exists for what employers can do to get the best people to work for them. On the lower end of the job skills scale, the difficulty is not as acute as for positions needing a degree or those filled by senior management, said Ken Keller, who heads the San Fernando Valley chapter of the Renaissance Executive Forum, an organization for business professionals. Compounding the problem is the cost of living in California. Employers often cannot pay a salary that allows a worker to own their own home. Restricted to hiring those who already own a home means having to steal away from another business, Keller said. “Everybody wants someone to come work with them, but if the person cannot afford a house, who wants to raise a family in an apartment or a condominium they don’t own,” Keller said. John Duncan regularly fields calls from search firms looking to place people in the more skilled positions at eSolutions, a web hosting and development company he runs in Santa Clarita. The entry-level positions are a different story. Recent college graduates, Duncan finds, do not receive the skills and training he needs to use the most current programs for database design. So what Duncan does is find the applicants who are the best qualified and demonstrate the best interest in learning and puts them through an internal training program that last from 4 to 6 months. Duncan knows it is not the students’ faults for what they haven’t learned. Programming technologies move fast and as bureaucratic as schools can be they have a hard time keeping up. “I’ve never been on the academic side but I imagine you have to move a few mountains to change a curriculum,” Duncan said At least computer programmers still have a curriculum to choose from. The same cannot be said for those wanting a career in the manual arts, where the remaining training programs are few and far between. Prompt Machine Products owner Mark Wilkinson recalls his high school years when class offerings included metalworking, drafting, woodworking, and plastics. Shop courses for the most part have been eliminated. The National Tooling and Machining Association closed its training center in North Hollywood last year due to low enrollment. “It is not the dirty, oily, grimy business it used to be,” Wilkinson said of the machining industry. “There is a ton of opportunity out there to make a good wage.” Wilkinson’s response to the labor crunch is on two fronts. In the short term, Prompt has cut back on, or avoids altogether, certain types of machining jobs because the skills aren’t available to get them done. Longer-term, Prompt and other area manufacturers are working with Los Angeles Valley College to create their own training programs to teach basic math, operational and language skills, Wilkinson said. Frazier Aviation underwrites several area high schools which have students take part in the national FIRST robotics competition and has, in turn, gotten interns to come work at the company. The downside, Frazier said, is these talented students leave to continue their education at out-of-state schools. “We’re fortunate right now to have [interns] who have stayed close to home,” Frazier said. It’s not just the manufacturing sector that faces a shortage of well-trained employees. Business banking has its challenges as well, as the environment changes to one of needing workers who specialize in, say, underwriting or business development. Americas United Bank President and CEO Gil Dalmau traces the shrinking employee pool to when business banks eliminated internal training programs, cutting off a supply of qualified workers who could replace those of retirement age. Getting around that shortage isn’t easy, Dalmau admits, and Americas United does it through referrals from its own employees. “We even talk to our customers,” Dalmau added. “We ask, ‘Who are some of the good bankers who have called on you and tried to get your business and who impressed you?’ Based on those references you call those people as well.” In taking on new hires, Mission Valley looks for the right attitude, someone who can fit into the culture and who wants a career rather than just a job. “That is still a challenge to find qualified people who have a passion for what they are doing,” Cederlind said. Despite having openings, some employers are not quick to fill them. They take their time to find the right person and may have to go outside California to do it. The owner of a Van Nuys printed circuit board manufacturer spent several months to fill a supervisor position to find the best person available. “I had one guy who was looking for two years for management positions, and had to go to Florida and Virginia,” Keller said. With applicants falling in the age range of Generation Y, employers face the challenge of a lack of training and experience with the added challenge of a different work ethic. Those in their twenties tend to want to put in minimum effort but expect to get a lot in return, entering the workforce with a sense of entitlement, employers said. Frazier tells of one applicant who wanted to make sure to have every third Friday off so he could have the time to pursue his hobby surfing. Mission Valley’s Cederlind said that even high school graduates with no work experience want to make more than minimum wage. A first job can take some getting used to and it’s not as idyllic as imagined when coming out of school, said Duncan, of eSolutions. “For some people I’m sure it’s an adjustment,” Duncan said.

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