David Miller, who recently switched from a career in masonry to manufacturing, points to some of the components he has worked on since starting at New Hampshire Ball Bearings. Gary Groleau, at right, corporate manager of labor relations and organizational development, said all of the components that NH Ball Bearings makes are critical to the aircraft in which they will be installed. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)
Labor shortage makes it hard to fill manufacturing openings
By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA _ David Miller, who works at New Hampshire Ball Bearings, is the kind of person local companies are struggling to hire in a tight labor market.
At age 26, he has a good work ethic and an ability to learn the operation of complicated machines that create critical parts with exacting tolerances such as engine mounts for airplanes.
Miller, who worked in the masonry trade after going to Laconia High School, joined New Hampshire Ball Bearings a year and a-half ago and enjoys his job.
“I didn't go to school for machinery, but I learned the skill here and did all the training,” he said Monday. “I've definitely grown in the company and had raises.”
The job offers decent pay, medical, dental and vision insurance, a retirement savings plan and education assistance.
“I like working inside all year,” Miller said. “It's not as physical as construction and I'm using my mind more than my body.”
There are 18 positions open at the company's plant in Laconia and 50 at its facility in Peterborough, said Gary Groleau, corporate manager of labor relations and organization development.
The positions range from engineers with a four-year degree who start at $70,000 a year to those with an associate's degree earning about $25 an hour. Assemblers without a degree also get a competitive wage and can work their way up.
“This is enormously satisfying work for anybody who likes problem solving, abstract thinking, development work,” Groleau said. “There's no end to the infatuation this holds for the curious mind.”
Such jobs sound attractive, but they can be difficult to fill. The state's unemployment rate is 2.6 percent, compared to 4.1 nationally.
Other factors causing a labor shortage include an aging populace and the migration of young people away from the state.
Also, many people simply don't know that there are good-paying manufacturing jobs available locally, or they may not understand these are skilled, challenging positions unlike factory jobs of times past.
The challenge of developing a strong workforce will be the focus of a summit Friday at Lakes Region Community College.
Dr. Ross Gittell, chancellor of the Community College System of New Hampshire, said manufacturing, health care and automotive repair are three examples of fields where people can succeed and make a good income without a four-year degree.
Automotive dealerships are paying skilled technicians $50,000 and top-earners, with overtime, could bring in almost $100,000, he said.
For years, people have been encouraged to get a bachelor's degree, but this is not for everybody.
“Many students financially can't afford it, or don't want to spend another four years in education,” he said.
“For too long, hands-on jobs were not thought of highly. Parents encouraged kids to go into the professional area, white-collar jobs. We went through a period in our country where manufacturing was thought of negatively and and these were thought to be dirty jobs. Today's manufacturing is very different.”
Cheryl L. Eberwein, spokeswoman for Freudenberg-NOK, said the company, which makes O-rings and other parts for automotive and other applications, has several locations around the state and is looking for new employees.
The company now has 16 salaried openings and 60 hourly openings in the state.
Karen MacLeod, human relations manager for company facilities in Ashland and Bristol, said it's a challenge to fill these positions.
“In Laconia, the unemployment rate is very low,” she said. “Our model has always been to do hiring through a staffing agency, but a couple years ago we started doing direct hiring from people already employed and partnering with local schools.
“For high school students not going to college, there is still a way to have a job and buy a house and raise a family in a clean work environment and play with things like robots.”
New Hampshire Ball Bearings manufactures aerospace components. It’s difficult for the company to find enough candidates to fill its job openings. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)