Manufacturing "not dead yet; not at all" in West Michigan

Nov 7, 2011

At least 35 West Michigan companies are looking to fill manufacturing jobs. The companies were scouting out new workers at a manufacturing job fair in Grand Rapids Monday.

This is the first time Grand Rapids Community College has held a job fair specifically for manufacturers. Michael Kiss has been with the college for 25 years. He’s heads the school’s Department of Manufacturing and Applied Technology. "There's 35 companies here, but probably another 100 that are looking to hire," Kiss said.

He says they decided to host the fair because he’s been flooded with calls from companies this year that are trying to fill jobs in the manufacturing field.

Isn't manufacturing dead?

It’s not dead yet; not at all,” 40-year old Grand Rapids resident Eric Mallett says about manufacturing.

“When I started it was just ‘Here’s your machine. You run the part like this, now go ahead,” Mallett said about getting into the career 15 years ago. Now, Mallett says his job is much more complicated. He says there are great careers in manufacturing, but he says you have to be able to use computers, solve technical problems and be able to work in a team. Mallett works for one of the companies at the that’s hiring. He’s going back to school to in order to move up into drafting and design.

“My fear is that if we don’t’ supply industry with people, those jobs are going to go away,” Kiss said, “They’re going to go somewhere where they can find people.”

Kiss say companies are dealing with an aging workforce. He says many young people have been scared away from manufacturing as a career. Kiss says manufacturers are looking for people with math and computer skills who can work successfully in teams and solve problems.

What employers are looking for and what they're not

Mindy Ysasy sat at the Herman Miller table. The Zeeland-Michigan based company employs more than 5,000 people in West Michigan. They’re looking to hire more.

“They’ve got to do more than just show up for work,” Ysasy said. “In the past I think generally people have thought that that’s what manufacturing was – it was an easy job and it paid a lot of money and you’re a sucker if you’re not doing it…but you won’t last long thinking like that anymore.”

Ysasy says she’s heard a lot of people come up and say something like ‘I can drive a fork-lift, what have you got for me?’ or ‘I worked in a plant before.’ But she says the company is really looking for problem-solving skills, good judgment, the ability to work in teams, and analytical skills – beyond the usual physical skills that go along with manufacturing on a line.

Here's a list of some of the companies that we're at the job fair Monday.

Advance Tooling
Amway
Aspen Surgical
Autocam
Best Metal
Buhler Prince
Center Manufacturing
Dematic
Flexco
Franchino Mold
Gentex
Grand Rapids Chair
Grand Rapids Plastics
Haworth
ITW Drawform
JR Auto
Middleville Tool and Die
Padnos
Pridgeon and Clay
Stone Plastics
Thermatron
Trans-Matic
Uniform Color