There are 137,000 workers in WNY nearing retirement, some in industries where skilled help is already hard to find. Where will all of those replacements come from?
There is plenty to celebrate about the Western New York economy. Unemployment is down, hovering around 5%. According to state labor department statistics, there has been private sector job growth for 36-consecutive months.
All tolled some 672,000 men and women in our region are holding down a job.
The catch is much of the area labor force is getting a bit old.
“Some industries are going to see a lot of retirements. Across the region, close to 137-thousand could retire over the next ten years," says Sharon Ana Entress, Associate Director of Research at the U-B Research Institute (UBRI).
To put that number in context, our region could see one out of every five workers heading out the door to retirement in the next decade. (At the bottom of this page, there's a long list of places in WNY where different types of job training is offered.)
That was one of the key findings in a study commissioned by Invest Buffalo Niagara. UBRI surveyed 250 area businesses. Almost half said they had difficulties filling jobs now. With the “gray wave” of retirements approaching, some industries may be scrambling to find replacements.
Entress says, “Manufacturing, education and healthcare is also going to see a lot of retirements and trade, transportation and utilities.”
The Buffalo area has long relied on manufacturing and other blue collar industries to keep the local economy chugging along. And these industries face potentially some of the greatest challenges to find replacement workers.
“There are going to be entry level jobs that maybe don’t require a college degree, but they do require skills” notes Entress.
Construction is a good example. Elected officials including Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Governor Andrew Cuomo often point out the cranes that have dotted the city skyline.
But an estimated half of WNY’s construction workers are age 45 or older. Anticipated retirements in the next 10-15 years could punch a huge hole in that workforce where skilled laborers are already in short supply.
“There’s work that isn’t getting done because we don’t have the work force to do it. We gotta find a way to make it work,” says Joe Benedict, executive director of the Construction Exchange of Buffalo and WNY.
Finding ready-to-work applicants for local manufacturing businesses is also a problem.
Peter Coleman says, “It’s the number-one issue that all manufacturers face today.”
As head of the Buffalo Niagara Manufacturing Alliance, Coleman’s mission is to find ways to get the next generation of factory workers ready for the job openings to come.
They’ve started a program where men and women go where they split time between school at Erie 1 BOCES and a basic manufacturing job at Goodwill Industries. People in the program learn manufacturing and safety skills while also taking home a paycheck.
It’s hoped when the new workforce development center is completed on Buffalo’s east side that the program could expand to produce 300 manufacturing-ready graduates.
“That’ll address a large need but still it’s not enough. It is a monster job and we’re offering monster jobs, I think. That average manufacturing job in the United states pays 74-to-75-thoiusand dollars a year in wages and benefits,” says Coleman.
What happens when manufacturing jobs go un-filled? Mark Andol knows.
He owns the chain of Made in America retail stores. Andol also runs General Welding & Fabrication in Elma, which saw a big piece of business evaporate.
Andol says, “I needed 20 welders because one of my customers broke out with a good load of work and it was very discouraging. I thought I’d run and ad and find these people, but I found one.”
And just like that, General Welding lost over a million dollars’ worth of business.
Shaking his head, Andol says, “Here, you wait for the work and I can’t find the workers that have the skill set.”
There is a serious shortage of experienced welders in WNY. Erie 1 BOCES started three general welding classes in January. They are all full.
“The students will learn the four different processes in the welding area, stick, advanced stick which is all the out-of-position welds, mig, tig and they learn some flex-core,” says Patricia Riegel, workforce development senior supervisor at Erie 1 BOCES.
Graduates of the program will have a basic understanding of welding, but that’s short of the experience Andol and other potential employers are looking for.
“It takes a good year to two to get ‘em to kinda know what we need and what we’re expecting out of them and the quality they’re expecting,” says Andol.
And there are other hurdles employers are finding. An example is illegal drug-use. Pre-employment drug-testing is common in many industries including manufacturing.
While people’s attitudes towards marijuana smoking may have changed over the years, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz warns it could cost people their jobs. He has heard repeatedly in the last three-years about the difficulties of finding job applicants who can pass a drug test.
“I do know that what we were hearing at some points, depending on the level of jobs is that 30-40 percent of the applicants that they were testing were failing,” says Poloncarz.
And it may surprise you, but there also appears to be a deficit in WNY’s labor pool in the so-called “soft skills”. That includes some very basic facets of having a job like showing up for work on time, ready for a full eight-hours or more.
Soft skills also covers what many may call “people skills”, being friendly and courteous to customers and fellow-employees.
These may sound like little things. But Perry’s Ice Cream found those skills in short supply when trying to fill positions for direct store delivery drivers. These are the truck drivers making sometimes dozens of stops a day to delivery Perry’s products to stores, schools and institutions.
Human resources director Jodi Wiechec explains, “They’re sales people. They’re customer service agents. They’re ambassadors for the Perry’s brand.”
And finding drivers with a commercial drivers’ license and those skills became increasingly difficult for Perry’s. So, the company made it a priority to find candidates with soft skills, and then sending them to truck driving school, if necessary.
“We can take a candidate, train them to drive, and continue to invest in training for safe driving. But it’s hard to train for instinct on customer service,” says Wiechec.
The service sector the economy has long made customer smiles their number-one concern. That’s especially true in business where competition is high, like hair salons.
“It’s about taking care of the client,” says Michael Giambra, owner of Michael the Salon in East Amherst.
“I know we’re going to do a good job. We work on that all the time. That’s never a question in my mind whether they’re gonna get a quality service, haircut or color,” says Giambra.
New hires are often recent cosmetology graduates, who will spend weeks not touching their scissors. Instead, they assist and observe. Among the lessons they are expected to learn while in training is proper and polite interaction with customers from the moment they walk through the door.
For every “thank you” from a customer, Giambra expects a warm “you’re welcome” from his staff. And he’s had to let go some who did not learn the salon’s rules on courtesy.
“Talent alone is not going to get you the job because that is not the most important thing. The most important thing is that you’re a nice person and you know customer service is number one on the list,” says Giambra.
Places In WNY That Offer Job Training
Bryant & Stratton Professional Skills Center
Bryant & Stratton College – Online Education
Bryant & Stratton College – Amherst Campus
Bryant & Stratton College – Buffalo Campus
Bryant & Stratton College – Orchard Park Campus
Buffalo CDL Training Institute
Buffalo Center for Arts and Technology
Buffalo Public Schools – Adult Education Division
Buffalo State College
Buffalo Tractor Trailer Institute
Canisius College Center for Professional Development
CATS Home Inspection School
Cattaraugus Allegany BOCES
D’Avolio Culinary Institute
Erie 2 Chautauqua-Cattaraugus BOCES
Erie Community College – North Campus
Erie 1 BOCES
Enterprise Training Solutions
Genesee County Economic Development Center
Genesee Community College
Genesee Valley BOCES
Hands On Technical Training Center
Jamestown Community College
Kenmore – Town of Tonwanda Union Free School District
Monroe 2 Orleans BOCES
National Tractor Trailer School
Niagara County Community College
Professional Culinary Academy
Professional Data Communications
Quality PC Training
RT Dee and Associates
SUNY Buffalo Educational Opportunity Center
SUNY Buffalo School of Management
SUNY Buffalo – Millard Fillmore College
The Center for Industrial Effectiveness
The Outsource Center for Human Services
The Safety and Health Training Center