Skilled work­ers, prized by firms, harder to find

Daily Southtown - - BUSINESS - By Ka­tia Dmitrieva and Ly­dia Mul­vany

At CNH In­dus­trial’s fac­tory in Racine, Wis., work­ers are build­ing bright red Case IH trac­tors the com­pany’s known for, and they’ll sell for hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. But there’s some­thing even more valu­able on the assem­bly line — the em­ploy­ees.

CNH In­dus­trial, one of the world’s largest agri­cul­tural-equip­ment mak­ers, needs to in­crease its Racine work­force of more than 500 by 5 per­cent, and it’s prov­ing tough to do by the Jan­uary goal. They’re com­pet­ing with other big com­pa­nies with a lo­cal pres­ence, in­clud­ing Ama­zon.com, S.C. John­son & Son and Har­ley-David­son.

Man­age­ment has raised wages 6 per­cent for pro­duc­tion em­ploy­ees in Racine this year, and of­fi­cials are in talks with the United Au­to­mo­bile Work­ers union for fur­ther in­creases for skilled trades­peo­ple.

CNH In­dus­trial’s sit­u­a­tion shows why hourly earn­ings are likely to keep pick­ing up af­ter sur­pass­ing 3 per­cent for the first time in this ex­pan­sion, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures out last week.

A La­bor De­part­ment re­port Tues­day showed U.S. job open­ings fell in Septem­ber though re­mained near a record, ex­ceed­ing the num­ber of un­em­ployed peo­ple by 1 mil­lion. While em­ploy­ers hope to re­tain and at­tract work­ers with bet­ter ben­e­fits such as ex­tra va­ca­tion days, money may be talk­ing louder.

“We’ve seen a tight la­bor mar­ket for a while, but it seemed like em­ploy­ers were do­ing ev­ery­thing they pos­si­bly could be­sides rais­ing wages,” said Sarah House, se­nior econ­o­mist at Wells Fargo. “It seems that hasn’t been enough. They’re start­ing to re­al­ize, ‘Hey, we just need to pay up a lit­tle bit more.’ ”

The 7 mil­lion job open­ings re­ported for Septem­ber was 1.05 mil­lion more than the num­ber of un­em­ployed U.S. work­ers. Those num­bers lag the La­bor De­part­ment’s closely watched jobs re­port by a month; Fri­day’s fig­ures showed the un­em­ploy­ment rate held in Oc­to­ber at 3.7 per­cent, the low­est since 1969.

CNH In­dus­trial, based in the U.K., is in par­tic­u­lar need of skilled can­di­dates: Each trac­tor is highly cus­tom­ized, and the tools of­ten re­quire ad­vanced train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence.

Aside from wages, they’re still but­ter­ing up em­ploy­ees with perks — the Racine plant’s hu­man re­sources man­ager, Su­san Prey-Fobes, says she and her col­leagues re­cently grilled 600 burg­ers to feed work­ers for lunch.

Mak­ing em­ploy­ees feel val­ued is “as much a part of this frenzy on re­cruit­ing as any­thing else,” she said by phone.

An­other lo­cal chal­lenge comes from Fox­conn Tech­nol­ogy Group, the Tai­wanese iPhone as­sem­bler that’s build­ing its first ma­jor U.S. fa­cil­ity near Racine. The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported Tues­day that Fox­conn is con­sid­er­ing bring­ing in Chi­nese engi­neers to help staff the plant be­cause it’s prov­ing dif­fi­cult to find work­ers in the U.S.

Cor­po­ra­tions have flagged the worker short­age in sur­veys. A Fed­eral Re­serve Beige Book sur­vey re­leased last month cited anec­dotes of firms be­ing so strapped for work­ers that they’re con­sid­er­ing ro­bots and hav­ing dif­fi­culty fill­ing shifts.

DANIEL ACKER/BLOOMBERG NEWS

CNH In­dus­trial, a farm-equip­ment maker, needs to in­crease its Racine work­force.

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