Northwest Arkansas Employers Looking for Skilled Help, Right Workers

by Chris Bahn  on Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 12:00 am  

Northwest Arkansas companies are again optimistic about future growth.

A recent business retention and expansion survey conducted by the Northwest Arkansas Council and local chambers of commerce reveal that 30 percent of the more than 450 employers surveyed — a sample that ranged from mom-and-pop operations to global retailers — plan expansions within the next three years.

That optimism is not, however, unchecked.

A common theme among businesses that identified areas of concern was a potential lack of available skilled labor. Worker supply ranked second on the list of perceived impediments to future expansion.

Northwest Arkansas employers aren’t alone in their concerns. Companies in the United States and globally report a shortage of workers available for skilled-labor jobs. A recent report cited a worldwide survey of 39,000 companies, one third of which revealed they aren’t able to find workers with the skills needed to fill jobs.

“We’ve had companies tell us point-blank they’d hire 12 workers but they can only find five,” said Mike Harvey, COO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “This is something we need to pay attention to. It’s not just something in northwest Arkansas. They’re seeing it across the industries. This is nationwide. It’s interesting.”

Tim Cornelius, vice president for learning at Northwest Arkansas Community College in Bentonville, hears frequently from employers about concerns that their growth will be hindered by the lack of an available workforce. He heads a manufacturers’ roundtable for regional employers and said anecdotes about jobs that can’t be filled have become more frequent.

Employees with skills to help local manufacturers are in demand, but in short supply right now. That’s good for them, but can become costly as employers fight over a small pool of qualified workers.

“They’re sort of cannibalizing each other right now,” Cornelius said. “We need more skilled workers in the pipeline to fill the jobs. There’s a lot of fluidity of movement for workers right now.”

ORC Products is one of the companies sitting in on the NWACC roundtable. The computer numerical control machining facility in Springdale provides products to the aerospace and hydraulic industries, and its business grew by 50 percent in the first year under new owner Tom Benincosa, who bought the company in 2011.

Growth has been less drastic in year two, but steady enough that the company recently closed on a new workspace for its 16 employees. That could grow to 20, including additional machinists, by the end of the year. Provided, of course, that qualified help can be found.

Operating the computer numerical control machines at ORC is part geometry, part computer science and part robotics. Production Manager Casey Benincosa, Tom’s son, said finding the right hires isn’t easy.



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