Good jobs are going begging at some Long Island companies.
Jeff Tempone, who owns East Coast Refrigeration in Deer Park, estimates he needs at least 10 more workers to compete for bigger contracts. Despite offering a base salary of $75,500 for some jobs, Tempone can't find enough mechanical engineers or technicians skilled in industrial refrigerants.
“Companies like mine find it very difficult to grow, because we have to have those people before we can get the work,” he said.
Tempone isn't alone. “I receive 15 to 20 inquiries each month from all over Long Island asking for trained workers from our various training programs,” said John Lombardo, an associate vice president of workforce and economic development at Suffolk County Community College.
Amid a recession-like unemployment rate on the Island, some companies have the same difficulty that East Coast Refrigeration has finding skilled workers. Many jobs for engineers, technicians, machinists and product managers are vacant. So are positions requiring certain foreign languages.
The reasons for Long Island's skilled labor shortage are myriad. Among them:
1. The cost of living here drives away young workers. Between 1990 and 2007, the number of U.S.-born Long Islanders ages 20 to 34 dropped 39 percent, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute report.
2, The defense industry layoffs in the 1980s and '90s made parents skittish about having their children major in engineering, science or math in college.
3. Struggling school districts have cut funds for vocational training. For example, the regional Eastern Suffolk BOCES education agency, which services 51 school districts, projects that 2012-13 enrollment in its career and technical education courses will fall to 1,650 students from a peak of 2,350 in 2006-07.
4, Companies are less likely to hire inexperienced employees because “they don't have the discretionary money to spend a lot on training,” said Bill Wahlig, executive director of the Long Island Forum for Technology, an economic development group, in Bethpage.
“There is a structural mismatch between the skills of the resident labor force and the skill needs of Long Island employers,” said Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the Island's largest business group. “In the short term, I think we are going to continue to see the structural mismatch, and that is going to inhibit economic growth.”
Data quantifying the skills shortages are hard to come by. But a 2011 state Labor Department workforce development report on Long Island said industries here are facing shortages in jobs such as welding and health care technology.
Two national reports last year highlighted the skills gap. According to ManpowerGroup, the percentage of U.S. companies struggling to fill key production positions such as skilled trades, sales and engineering jumped to 52 percent in 2011, from 14 percent the year before.
Deloitte Consulting and The Manufacturing Institute estimated that as many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs nationwide remained unfilled because companies couldn't find enough machinists, craft workers, equipment operators and technicians.
But Long Island had an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent in April. The number of unemployed residents, 103,800, is almost double the 54,200 of March 2007, nine months before the recession began.
Leonard Rosenbaum, founder and president of Ronkonkoma-based high-tech toolmaker CVD Equipment Corp., needs more people skilled in the specialized chemical process that the fast-growing company's name is derived from: chemical vapor deposition, a coating process used to make industrial equipment for computer-chip, solar-energy and nanotechnology uses. CVD has 165 employees, and Rosenbaum wants to add 35 more this year, including electrical and mechanical engineers, systems-test technicians and project managers — if he can find them.
“Long Island does not have the quantity of firms or universities that, for example, California has that are involved in CVD” technology, he said.
Stuart Herskovitz, the founder and president of Qosina, an Edgewood-based medical-devices distributor, wants to expand his export sales, which account for about 30 percent of the company's revenue. But he needs more workers fluent in Mandarin, French and German, as well as product managers with experience in his industry to ensure he remains competitive.
“We could grow even faster if we can add people with the skills we need,” he said.
Suffolk County Community College is working to bridge the skills gap. It has used $4.5 million in federal funds since 2006 to train a number of workers, including 750 in manufacturing technology, a nod to factories' increasing digitization.
Such training programs may have encouraged Check-Mate Industries Inc., a Wyandanch company that makes molds for guns and surgical tools, to hire Patrick Sweeney in December. After he turned 18 in February, the Farmingville resident entered a four-year state apprenticeship program that includes working and taking college classes. He receives a salary and benefits from the company.
“I've always been into tools and making stuff fit together,” he said at a recent SCCC class on machining fundamentals. He and other students used computers to design small hard plastic boxes with lids and then relayed those specifications to a milling machine. In September, Sweeney hopes to begin an advanced manufacturing class at Farmingdale State College.
A sample of job openings on LI
Company. East Coast Refrigeration of Deer Park services commercial and industrial refrigeration systems.
Job opening. Journeyman technician.
Requirements. At least five years' experience with applications of ammonia, used in industrial refrigeration.
Base salary. $75,500
Challenge. Trying to fill spots for at least two years. Gets one or two applications a month, generally from people without needed skills.
Company. North Shore-LIJ Health System, Great Neck.
Job opening. Physical-practice registered nurse, new position.
Requirements. Bachelor's of science in nursing; familiarity with digital medical-records technology; excellent communication, interpersonal and critical-thinking skills
Starting salary. $65,000 to 70,000
Challenges. New position. Hospital is starting training program because it says nursing schools don't focus on computer skills.
Company. Qosina of Edgewood, a medical products distributor
Job opening. Product manager
Requirements. Four-year degree (an MBA a plus); 5-plus years' experience; medical device-industry, business-to-business marketing experience; strong business-to-business marketing experience; proficiency in Microsoft Office, including Word and Excel. Excellent managerial, organizational and time-management skills
Starting salary. $75,000
Challenges. Some positions open two years. Company gets lots of resumes from unqualified people, including unemployed mortgage lenders.
Company. CVD Equipment Corp., of Ronkonkoma, high-tech tool maker.
Job opening. System test engineer/technician.
Requirements. Associate of science degree in electrical engineering or equivalent; 2-plus years' experience, strong knowledge of electrical principles; ability to diagnose and repair electronics equipment and components, among other skills
Salary. $30,000 to $60,000
Challenges. Company gets a couple applications a month, generally from unqualified people. Has two to three openings constantly because company is growing and months-long searches can't keep up.