Employers having to get creative in recruiting workers

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Forklift work at the BorgWarner transfer case plant in Seneca. An Upstate staffing agency launched its own training for forklift drivers after encountering difficulty in finding enough. Photo by Will Crooks

An unusually tight labor market has Upstate employers getting creative in trying to recruit the workers they need.

Phillips Staffing, a Greenville-based staffing agency, is participating almost every day in “job fairs” — events designed to match employers with employees — said Ed Parris, the firm’s president.

On one hot Sunday afternoon, he said, the company worked with an hispanic radio station to host one of the hiring events at a flea market along White Horse Road.

Phillips needs to maintain a workforce that usually numbers between 2,500 and 3,000 people at 200 client sites, mostly factories or warehouses.

“We’re trying to leave no stone unturned,” Parris said.

“I’ve been in the human resources business since the early 80s, and it’s about as tight as I’ve seen it,” he said. “And certainly for technically skilled labor, it is as tight as I’ve ever seen it.”

Duke Energy is talking with Greenville Tech about launching a program to train utility linemen as it gets ready to spend $3 billion over a decade improving its electrical grid in South Carolina.

Ryan Mosier, a spokesman for the Charlotte-based power company, said linemen are in high demand and finding enough of them is a challenge.

They earn $21 an hour to start and the pay rises to $70,000-$80,000 a year after four years and full training, he said.

“It is a physically demanding job, as well as mentally demanding, and you work long, hard hours,” Mosier said. “That said, the career field offers a lot of opportunities. It is a high-paying job for a position that does not require any type of degree beyond high school.”

In Columbia, state trade associations representing 15 industries sought $950,000 in state money to buy a tractor-trailer and drive it around the state to promote various occupations such as truck driver, plumber, machinist, tool and die maker.

The plan was to equip the big rig with video screens that would inform high school and middle school students about the trades and where to get training.

Backers aimed to duplicate an Arkansas program for addressing a shortage of skilled workers.

Gov. Henry McMaster joined them at a Statehouse press conference, but the House declined to fund the program, said Rick Todd, president of the South Carolina Trucking Association, one of the groups involved.

“We’ve got a gun to our head with the labor shortage,” Todd said. “It’s reaching a crisis.”

MAU Workforce Solutions, a Georgia staffing agency that provides labor to Upstate manufacturers, began training forklift drivers after encountering difficulty in finding enough.

“We’re having to take people that are willing and able and basically grow our own forklift drivers,” said Jared Mogan, MAU’s regional operations manager in Greenville.

The training along Highway 101 in Greer includes a fundamentals course for people with no experience, as well as an enhancement course for people who have driven a forklift before but need to brush up on their skills, Mogan said.

In Laurens County, ZF Group last summer launched a co-op program with school teachers in an effort to fill openings at its transmissions plant in Gray Court, said Michael Morris, the plant’s director of human resources.

Under the program, ZF paid teachers in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) to engage with various departments at the plant over summer break and then give presentations back at their schools.

“We want to get the message out there that jobs are available,” Morris said.

He said the plant has also extended its search for engineers beyond Clemson University and the University of South Carolina to Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The ZF plant currently has 200 job openings, Morris said, declining to disclose pay rates.

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