CLARENDON — It’s a common narrative that manufacturing jobs are on the decline in the United States, and while that’s largely true, it’s not the whole story, according to the Vermont Department of Labor.
“The average age of manufacturing workers is higher than (others) so there are a lot of job openings in manufacturing due to retirements and regular job churn,” said Mathew J. Barewicz, director of economic and labor market information for the Department of Labor.
He cites data from the department that can be found at www.vtlmi.info/projlt.pdf
The market is projected to see turnover of workers in production positions because those folks are older and retiring, Barewicz said.
GE Aviation in Clarendon is seeing some of this, though much of its recent hiring has been due to an increase in demand for its products, said Patty Minichiello, plant communications and project coordinator.
“This year alone, we’ve hired 150 new employees to keep up with the increased demand for commercial and military engine parts,” she said in an email. “We’re still looking to hire about 80 new employees by the end of 2018.”
According to Minichiello, between the company’s three facilities in the Rutland area it employs about 1,100 people.
She said the U.S. Air Force recently chose Boeing’s T-X aircraft to be used in its training for advanced pilots. The T-X uses the F404 engine, which GE Aerospace makes.
“This is a huge win for GE Aviation, and means a great deal of work for Rutland,” Minichiello said. “In essence, it’s the high demand for commercial and military engine parts, combined with new product introductions and upcoming retirements, that will keep us in hiring mode well into 2019.”
Those retirements have left GE with the need to improve its own internal training programs, said Michelle Daniels, lead employee human resources management specialist for GE Aerospace, in a Wednesday interview.
Daniels said the company has seen many retirements and new hires. GE has created a Training Task Team made up of 15 employees. Earlier this week, Dr. Harry Chaucer, of Castleton University, visited the facility to train about 25 people on how to best train other employees.
Daniels said so far GE isn’t having too much trouble finding qualified candidates for its open positions.
“Despite the low unemployment rate and despite the job market being full, we have been fortunate to be able to hire good, quality employees here in Rutland,” she said.
That may change as the unemployment rate lowers, she said, so the company is working now to beef up its internal apprenticeship programs and create connections with high schools, vocational and technical schools, and colleges and universities.
Getting hired for most of these positions requires at least one year of manufacturing experience, Daniels said.
Those who don’t have that can go to Community College of Vermont, which for the past four years has run a general production technical program, said Michael Keogh, business and community outreach manager for CCV.
Keogh said tuition for the program is $2,318, but few end up paying that because of grants available to them from the U.S. Department of Labor. The program takes six months and is the equivalent of one year’s experience in a manufacturing setting. The program works with GE, and has seen many of its graduates hired there.
“GE has been great with us,” he said.
According to a September report from the Vermont Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in Vermont for August held steady at 2.8 percent. The national average is 3.9 percent.
For decades, Vermont’s unemployment rate has been lower than the national average, Barewicz said.
“We do not get as hot during economic upswings or as cold during down times,” he said.
There’s no solid answer for why this is, but one theory, he said, is because Vermont has a fairly diverse economy. He said people think it’s all agriculture and tourism, but health care, federal border-related jobs and even manufacturing are all part of the offerings the state has.
He said there’s still manufacturing work in Vermont that needs doing.