Amazon complicates auto industry’s worker-shortage challenge

As employers try to get new hiring projects on track, or just return to previous production levels, the shortage of workers is a bottleneck. Missing just a tenth of a needed work force can hold back volumes or thwart efforts to operate a plant efficiently.

David Kalb, president at Applied Tech Industries, a Tier 2 specialized automotive coatings provider in Chesterfield, Mich., said he has not been able to find enough workers to keep up with production commitments shortly after the industry came back on line.

“We had to go to 10-hour shifts, six days a week because we couldn’t get good help, other than the people we had,” said Kalb, who services 12 auto assembly plants.

In addition to working additional hours, Kalb had to outsource some work to competitors. “Just in trying to find people, we’ve added more temp agencies,” he said. “We had to increase our pay by a couple of bucks an hour, because that’s what the market was doing at the time.”

Others have asked salaried engineers to fill gaps on assembly lines.

“There’s definitely a battle for talent,” Ratliff said. “Customers are experiencing higher turnover rates. As we’re looking to engage with the work force, there’s lower enthusiasm to go back to work due to COVID.

“The war for talent became that much more challenging.”

Some employers also are considering making their wages more competitive, and partnering with organizations that have a pipeline to the manufacturing work force.

The Texas Workforce Commission — a state agency that provides work force development services to support the state’s economic development activities — creates grant programs that aim to boost the available worker pool. The commission connects incoming or expanding companies with those workers.

Texas is awaiting the arrival of a new Tesla Gigafactory truck plant southeast of Austin, which is likely to pull in more suppliers and spur local parts companies to expand production. That will create the need for more auto workers around Austin — an area that is hardly hurting for jobs. In addition to the University of Texas and state government offices, Dell Technologies is a major local employer, and a new Apple campus there plans to hire 15,000 people.

“You can have all the great tax incentives and benefits and be a nonunion state and all these things that Texas has, but if you don’t have the work force that is ready to meet those needs, that’s going to hurt that recruitment,” said James Bernsen, deputy director of communications at the state commission. “A key input is having that work force, and that’s really been our strength.”

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