Erie chamber hopes manufacturing job fair will lead to new hiring


According to the state Department of Labor and Industry, approximately 18,400 people in Erie County make their livings in manufacturing.

But James Grunke, CEO of the Erie Regional Chamber and Growth Partnership, said the number could be much higher.

The challenge is that many of the approximately 300 manufacturers in Erie County need to hire employees but cannot find them.

And the problem is widespread, said Jake Rouch, the chamber’s vice president for economic development, who explains that even Erie County’s largest industrial employer, Wabtec Corp., has more than 100 manufacturing jobs to fill.

Other companies with dozens of open positions include JTM Foods LLC, the nation’s largest maker of snack pies.

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This job fair is a little different than others

Hosting job fairs isn’t typically part of the chamber’s playbook, but their chairs make an exception.

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On Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Zem Zem Shrine Club at 2525 West 38th St, the Chamber and the Erie Regional Manufacturing Partnership are hosting

Local companies including Wabtec, Plastek Group, Industrial Sales and Manufacturing and Eriez Manufacturing will be there and hope to recruit new employees.

Grunke is optimistic about the potential for successful career matchmaking.

“If you want a job in manufacturing and you can show up on the 29th, you will either join or take part in a training program. We need people looking for work,” he said.


Video 2018: Officials christen a new locomotive at GE Transportation in Lawrence Park

Watch video from 2018 when officials christened a new locomotive in Lawrence Park Township, then called GE Transportation and now Wabtec Corp. called

Jim Martin, Erie Times News

Rouch said it’s difficult to say with certainty the number of open positions in Erie County’s manufacturing sector. However, he estimates that the approximately 300 manufacturers in this county have an average of at least three vacancies per unit. This math suggests that around 1,000 manufacturing jobs are waiting for the right applicant.

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“It’s not like we’ve lost 2,000 jobs and there aren’t any vacancies,” Rouch said. “It is the opposite.”

Grunke explains it like this: “There are (still) 22,000 jobs in production, but only 19,000 people fill them.”

Jim Rutkowski Jr., general manager of Industrial Sales and Manufacturing in Millcreek Township, a contract manufacturer that works for a large number of companies, said he is optimistic about the chamber-led effort.

According to the board, ISM has about a dozen vacancies and could potentially add another shift if it finds enough people.

The hiring process has changed for Erie companies

“We’re very confident that it will help,” Rutkowski said. “In our case, things are getting a little better, but we try so many ways to find people. It’s not like the old days where you put an ad in the paper or put up a sign out front and people come to your door.”

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Rouch and Grunke see the career fair as just a first step towards sustained effort.

The chamber is also working on a larger problem of providing training and money to train applicants who are interested in manufacturing employment but lack the right skills.

“You need the employers, you need to have the training providers, you need to have the talent pools, then you have the funding resources,” Rouch said.

People representing all of these things “need to get into an ongoing dynamic dance,” he said.

In some cases, Rouch says, the high-demand environment could make it easier for applicants to find an apprenticeship.

“Most of our employers, if someone is willing to go to work and commit, they will figure out how to pay for the training or they will start in-house training,” Rouch said.

Jim Martin can be reached at [email protected]

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