Industry Report

Manufacturers Observe First National Skilled Trades Day

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Michael Kovach, president of City Machine Technologies Inc., sees a lot of gray when he looks around his shop floor. 

No one has a crystal ball in this business, but one thing’s for sure: the workforce is getting older.

Changing the hues of those follicles by injecting more young people with the requisite skills into his workforce of 70 is among the objectives of National Skilled Trades Day, celebrated for the first time Wednesday. It will be held annually the first Wednesday of May.

Skilled trades range from barbers, hair dressers and bug exterminators to machinists, mechanics, welders and truck drivers and to medical assistants and radiology technicians.

“We’d like to transfer those skills from these individuals to the younger generation,” Kovach said. While many young people are more interested in computers, CMT is looking for the “shade-tree mechanics” and people who built soapbox derby cars in their youth.

“It’s been tough to find good, qualified young people,” he said. 

Claudia Kovach, CMT’s vice president and Michael Kovach’s daughter, initiated the process of establishing National Skilled Trades Day though the National Day Calendar registry. CMT commemorated the event with a lunch for workers at its plant on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

“It really is nice to thank everybody for rolling up their sleeves and putting in a hard day’s work,” Claudia Kovach said.

Those attending the event included Roger Geiger, vice president and executive director of the Ohio chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, James Dignan, president and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, and Mayor Jamael Tito Brown. 

“In Ohio, we do two things: We grow things and we make things, and both of those things take a skill. They don’t necessarily take a four-year degree,” Geiger said. “They take skilled labor, folks who know how to work with their hands.”

“The skilled trades have been the backbone of industry and business in the Mahoning Valley for over a century, and the need has never been greater,” Dignan said.

The chamber CEO called National Skilled Trades Day “a great day … to recognize the skilled trades,” the people who helped build the community and those who are still needed for the community to remain strong so the economy can grow.

“Companies like this are the backbone of communities like Youngstown,”  Brown added.

Health care remains the No. 1 issue for small businesses in Ohio, but the shortage of skilled workers is a major challenge, Geiger said.

“We are in an economic boom, Businesses across the state are ready to expand. The simple impediment is we can’t find skilled labor,” Geiger said. 

CMT is always looking for machinists, mechanics and others who are mechanically inclined who are drug-free, Claudia Kovach said. The company’s efforts Wednesday were aimed at reaching students from elementary through high school.

In the morning, junior and senior precision welding students from Mahoning County Career & Technical Center toured CMT, Claudia Kovach said. In the afternoon, she headed to Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology, where visitors dressed up as skilled trades workers.

Locally, National Skilled Trades Day was also observed at Dearing Compressor & Pump Co., Boardman, which distributes and builds equipment for the compressed air, gas, process gas and hydraulic application industries. 

Dearing, like CMT and others that rely on the skilled trades, is having difficulty filling openings. The company has five openings now, including one for a pipe welder that has been vacant since November, said Danielle Lanterman, human resource generalist. Career centers aren’t turning out students in the numbers companies like Dearing need, she noted. 

“It stems from high schools not educating the students on the other opportunities besides college,” Lanterman said. 

“There’s nobody giving these kids the information of how important it is in the skilled trades and what we need to keep moving forward,” affirmed Dave Swantek, welding supervisor. After the steel mills closed in the 1970s, no one took interest in encouraging young people to enter the skilled trades.

“We have had a very hard time trying to find dedicated young people to come in out of school to get into the trades to do what we’re doing,” Lanterman said. “We need people to be able to weld, be fitters. We need mechanics.” 

Lanterman goes to Crestview Middle School each year to outline the various opportunities within manufacturing, professional positions as well as those involving the skilled trades. “I’ve only had one school reach out to me to do that, and I’ve reached out to multiple schools to try and instill that in their schools as well,” she said. 

Outreach needs to begin in middle school, Swantek said, with seventh and eighth graders provided the opportunity to be exposed to the manufacturing world.

Dearing workers Wednesday wore red, white and blue T-shirts Lanterman designed to recognize the skilled trades. She had been designing a shirt to show support for the military, then reworked the idea when she learned about Claudia Kovach’s efforts with National Skilled Trades Day. “So now we are going to support two things,” Lanterman said. 

Manufacturing represents one of the biggest career opportunities in the Mahoning Valley, and National Skilled Trades Day offers an opportunity to expose the field to a potential workforce, Dearing’s Lanterman said. “I hope schools take that and run with it,” she said. 

Pictured: City Machine Technologies foreman Bob Puharich and machinist Paul London show a bearing to  National Federation of Independent Business’ Ohio  executive director Roger Geiger. Joining them are CMT President Mike Kovach and vice president Claudia Kovach.

Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.