Missouri Business

Closing the gap between workers’ abilities and employers’ needs

While working to figure out how to make Missouri a better place for business, one issue stood apart: finding a properly educated workforce.

According to the Gallup survey contracted by the Missouri 2030 project, only 15 percent of Missouri business owners agree that high schools are preparing students for the workforce, and 75 percent believe that public schools in Missouri need to be held more accountable for outcomes. Small to mid-sized businesses struggle most with finding and retaining skilled workers.

“For the past several years, we have struggled to find entry level qualified labor for our company,” says Darrel Keesling, of Component Bar Products, a contract manufacturer in O’Fallon. “We had tried several different avenues: local technical training, temporary staffing services, and even internal training. All of these approaches did not fully support our needs. Many of the technical schools, especially at the high school level, had eliminated any machine focus classes in the past decades.”

To help address this issue, Component Bar Products recently partnered with other area manufacturers and St. Charles Community College to create a training program for anyone over 18 who is interested in learning more about machining and manufacturing.

The effort at Component Bar Products comes as more Missouri businesses believe that the education and training systems are not adequately preparing people for work.

“Missouri students are being encouraged to go the college route, which is great,” says Brian Crouse, vice president of education for the Missouri Chamber. “However, not every young person is meant to or wants to go to a four-year college. We need to be letting middle school students know what their opportunities are instead of waiting until they are sophomores and juniors in high school. Today’s students need to be made aware of the possibilities in the technical skilled trades and then be properly trained to go into that workforce.”

Gallup reported that “unless Missouri changes the way we are preparing people for the jobs of the future, the current mismatch between employer skill needs and the talents of the workforce will widen.” Systemic education reform will take years. Therefore, initiatives that work around the current system must be made available to help employers in the interim.

Among the ideas were the following:

Component Bar Products has stepped up to the plate to create a program to educate job candidates and is seeing the results.

“The program was basically created out of a longer term need within our company,” Keesling says. “In the past couple of decades, manufacturing and specifically machining have not been ideal industries for many younger people. Our workforce is aging, and there is 25 percent of our workforce that is going to be eligible to retire in the next five years. We believe that there is resurgence in the manufacturing industry in the US, and if we don’t have a longer term view on employees, we won’t be able to satisfy our customer’s changing demands.”

Even with the progress at Component Bar, Missouri’s businesses, government, and education system will need to work together to ensure that we are producing a workforce that can do the jobs that are in demand.

“Some of the jobs in the future—good jobs that allow our communities to grow and provide a growing tax base—require vocational or occupational training, and this could be introduced earlier in the education process,” Keesling says. “Likewise, high schools and even elementary schools need to acknowledge that a job in a trade or technical field is not a second choice and can lead to a rewarding and prosperous career.”