MANSFIELD -- Hiring is a challenge for 92 percent of employers in Richland, Ashland and Crawford County, despite "competitive wages," according to a recent survey by the Richland Community Development Group (RCDG).
Clint Knight, the organization's workforce development director, explained Friday at a Regional Manufacturing Coalition (RMC) meeting that average wages at area manufacturers are generally within only a few cents difference when compared to wages in Wayne County and not as far off from Delaware County's wages as he had expected.
"It was surprising to me because I would have thought the cost of living would have caused (Delaware's average wages) to be much higher, but it did not come out that way," Knight said. "So regionally, overall, we're competitive. Our wages are competitive. And as employers, it's clear that we've risen to the challenge of the competitive job market, looking at these specific jobs."
Results showed that assemblers and fabricators in Richland, Ashland and Crawford counties make an average of $15.86 per hour, while the same positions (on average) are paid $15.82 per hour in Wayne County and $16.25 per hour in Delaware County. Production workers are paid an average of $14.24 per hour locally, $14.31 per hour in Wayne County, and $15.42 per hour in Delaware County, according to data Knight cited from Kent State University's Stark program.
Laborers, freight stock and material handlers made an average of $15.01 per hour in Richland and its two adjacent counties, $14.22 per hour in Wayne, and $16.15 in Delaware.
The difference between local wages and Delaware County's wages is a more noticeable in maintenance and repair and welders, cutters, solderers and brazers. Local employers pay an average of $21.78 per hour for maintenance and repair, while Wayne County pays an average of $21.51 per hour, and Delaware County pays an average of $23.45 per hour.
Welders, cutters, solderers and brazers make an average of $18.39 per hour in Richland, Ashland and Crawford Counties, which compares to those who make an average of $18.27 in Wayne County and $21.21 per hour in Delaware County.
Knight also put 2018's average wages head-to-head with 2015 average wages and found that wages for many positions have risen between 6 and 46.8 percent.
Average wage for CNC programmers rose from $22.91 per hour to $24.28 per hour in that time, and wages for laborers, freight stock and material handlers rose from from $14.12 per hour to $15.01 per hour average.
Maintenance and repair wages, however, showed -- by far -- the most significant increase. The survey showed local wages have rose by 46.8 percent between 2015 and 2018. Wages increased from $14.83 per hour in 2015 to to $21.78 per hour in 2018.
"I would guess if you walked out to your maintenance department, you'd probably see the majority of your maintenance people is probably where you need to be focusing on succession planning and making sure you train younger workforce to be prepared for that," Knight said. "I would think the increase in pay would be reflective of the demand we have for maintenance."
But employers struggle across the board to fill positions, especially skilled ones, Knight said, citing the survey where employers listed lack of skilled, qualified candidates and lack of applicants as the top two reasons for their hiring challenges.
"Potentially, everyone is working. It's a tight labor market," Knight said.
This means the pipeline for skilled employees is either graduating high school seniors or current employees, Knight explained. Training, he said, is key to filling needs.
"It shows that every employer is needing skilled employees, which is important for both the employee and the employer to know so that we can find ways to rise to that need," Knight said.
The third and fourth top reasons for hiring troubles, as noted by employers, were low work ethic and attendance and too low wages.
One audience member wondered if profit-sharing programs could increase work ethic. She noted that educating employees about how it works and its importance would be necessary.
Only 25 percent of employers in Richland, Ashland and Crawford counties reported a profit-sharing program, according to the survey. About 50 percent offer health savings accounts, and 68 percent offer 401K plans.
But Knight said, the young workforce might be most likely to ask about paid time off.
"We spend a lot of time talking about millennials, Generation Z. How do we engage them? How do we attract them, and how do we keep them?" Knight said. "And one of the things we've learned is that work-life balance is something that is key to this age group."
The local average for paid time off days is just below the national average, according to data presented by Knight. The national average is 10 PTO days after one year of employment, while the local average is 8 days.
"The national average seems to be trending upwards compared to what we're doing regionally, so I think this is something we should take note of," Knight said. "Do I think we need to go out and change out PTO policy to 10 days on day one? I don't think so, but I think this is something we should be aware of as we're trying to engage and attract this workforce that is coming right out of high school. These are things that are important to them."
Wellness programs, Knight said, may also be of interest to this demographic. According to the survey, only 25 percent of employers in Richland, Ashland and Crawford currently offer them.
"When you talk about employee engagement -- how we show our employees that we are investing in them and that we care about them, which is also something that is very important to this young workforce that we're working to attract and keep -- employee wellness is key to that," Knight said.
The survey was conducted with partnerships through the Richland Area Chamber of Commerce, Grow Ashland, North Central State College, the Richland-Crawford Workforce Development Board and the Crawford Partnership for Education and Economic Development. The data was collected and organized by Kent State's Stark program.
Knight hopes employers will use the results to better inform their decisions.
"Having this information shows how employers compare within the county and outside of the county to each other. That's important in an extremely competitive job market," Knight said.