Manufacturers did see a recent rebound in their workforce, but the number of people employed in the sector is still well below what it was before the pandemic. Photo by Frank Lopez
Written by Frank Lopez
With a new year comes new laws, taxes and regulations, and for local manufacturers — hopefully new workers.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics employment highlights from December 2021, manufacturing employment trended upward with 26,000 jobs in December, 35,000 jobs in November and 52,000 jobs in October.
The manufacturing sector added a total of 349,000 jobs in 2021. However, the total number of people employed in manufacturing last year was 219,000 less than what it was in February 2020.
Several manufacturing and construction companies recently gathered for a manufacturing job fair at the Ted C. Wills Community Center in Fresno.
More than 20 businesses gathered to fulfill positions for CNC operators, welders, assemblers, drivers, mechanics, forklift operators and more.
Katlyn Garcia is human resources manager for J.P. Lamborn Co., a flexible ductwork and HVAC-related products manufacturer in Fresno that is also the largest privately owned company of its kind in the US. She said that with the active housing market, the company has seen more business than ever.
Some employees left because of fears of Covid-19. Filling those vacant positions was a challenge.
“We are seeing an uptick now. But in the beginning, it was a struggle,” she said. “It’s scary when people are leaving and you’re not knowing how to fulfill orders.”
“But we’ve been able to bounce back,” Garcia added.
The company hired about a dozen new workers within the last month.
Even after federal stimulus and unemployment assistance programs ended, Garcia said workers were still not applying in the same rates as before the pandemic.
To attract workers, they increased their wages and incentives, and expanded their benefits package.
Garcia said that the company is seeing more applicants changing industries. They are seeing younger applicants and more women interested.
For this year, the company is going to stay active to keep employees satisfied.
“That’s where our shift will be in 2022—keeping and maintaining the great people that we were able to get,” Garcia said.
PNM Co. is a CNC machining shop in Fresno that creates customized products for clients. Chris Counts, partner and assembly manager, said that since the beginning of the pandemic, it’s been a challenge to find workers.
The company currently has 45 employees and is trying to fill four or five positions.
“It was harder at the beginning of 2020, but we are still having some troubles,” Counts said. “We get people that don’t show up for interviews, or pull out the phones during interviews and don’t seem interested.”
Counts said PNM has had to offer higher wages to try and attract talent. The shop does train people with no experience, and a “green” employee can be trained up in three to five days.
“I hope it turns around. I know a lot of different people in a lot of different companies in a lot of different industries that are all saying the same thing about getting employees—people don’t want to come back to work for either fear of the virus or to collect unemployment,” Counts said.
Early in the pandemic, food manufacturing and processing facilities made headlines for Covid-19 outbreaks. In December 2020, a Foster Farms facility in Fresno had 193 employees test positive for Covid-19.
Along with health and safety protocols, a shortage of workers has dampened operations for food manufacturers and processors.
Michael Grazier, president and CEO of Busseto Foods, a subsidiary of Italian company Fratelli Beretta, said aside from the trouble finding workers, Covid-19 has had negative effects on daily operations.
“Like with many businesses, the pandemic has given us the gift of absenteeism — sudden absenteeism — and that was just icing on the cake of a relatively poor market even prior to Covid,” Grazier said.
Covid-related laws that were passed, including sick leave for workers and family members, add another layer of complexity in solving the labor issues, Grazier said.
Busseto usually has about 165 employees and is looking to fill 25 to 30 positions, including temporary positions.
Last year the company significantly advanced its wages to attract people and to encourage current employees to stay. Grazier said the company also tries to create an environment where employees know they’re appreciated through employee recognitions and luncheons.
“The challenges are still in front of us, frankly. However I will say, with the turnout for today’s job fair, I am encouraged things are getting better,” Grazier said.