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Bulloch HR managers struggle to fill technical jobs
'Workforce readiness' called into question
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Human resources pros at major Bulloch County employers, including Georgia Southern University as well as industries such as Viracon, report difficulty finding qualified people for mechanical and technical jobs and certain other specialized work.
The Statesboro Area Society for Human Resource Management hosted a “State of Employment in Bulloch County” discussion Tuesday at the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center. GSU Employment Services Director Demetrius Bynes led it. The society’s president, Jeffery Grant, who is the city of Statesboro’s human resources director, served on the panel, as did Sabrina Vasher of Viracon, Amanda See of Briggs & Stratton and Michelle Lau from Brodie International.
Calling it a “workforce readiness” question, Bynes asked what types of jobs panelists find difficult to fill.
“By identifying positions, we want to emphasize the fact that we really need to encourage our educators, whether it’s Ogeechee Technical College or the Board of Education,” Bynes said. “We are engaging in these conversations with these groups to emphasize the fact that we have these difficult-to-fill positions.”
He added that it might also help job hunters decide on education they need for jobs that interest them.
Architectural glass maker Viracon currently employs about 350 people at its Statesboro plant, where Vasher is human resources manager.
The plant’s hiring challenge is filling “highly skilled positions, robot operators, machine operators,” she said. “Our maintenance positions are also very difficult for us to fill.”
Viracon has been working with Ogeechee Tech to put together an industrial maintenance training program, she said.
“I don’t know if there’s something more we could do at a high school level to get the word out that these are great-paying positions with very little education required and if you do have mechanical aptitude, this is a great career choice for someone,” Vasher added.
She also revealed the day’s most substantial jobs news. Viracon, at the beginning of last week, had about 40 job openings. About 30 were production jobs, Vasher said. The others included four maintenance posts, some of which had been open since October, and several supervisory or production lead positions.
A number of the vacancies were in Viracon’s night shifts. The plant will hire more people yet as it adds production lines and warehouse support.
“We’ll be looking to bring on 100 positions probably in the next two years,” Vasher said in a brief interview after the discussion.
GSU’s needs
Meanwhile, Georgia Southern University at times has difficulty filling skilled trade jobs such as those for plumbers, HVAC technicians, electricians, maintenance workers and carpenters, Bynes said.
“Those are positions that people can work in without a college degree, with work experience and some technical training,” he said. “So if you are not enrolled in a four-year university, there is still hope for you. I know Ogeechee Tech does many of these programs.”
The Society for Human Resource Management has a Workforce Readiness Committee, which Bynes said is reaching out to Ogeechee Tech and the school system to include employers in decisions about preparing students for work.
“We want industry to come to this area,” he said. “However, the job market has to be ready to support it.”
The university is pretty much always hiring, said GSU Associate Vice President for Human Resources Paul Michaud. With more than 6,200 employees, Georgia Southern is Bulloch County’s largest single employer. That number includes almost 3,000 student jobs.
Although not a panel member, Michaud spoke up to note the university’s ongoing need for qualified employees. Its minimum wage for positions with full benefits, he noted, is $11.08 an hour, established on the basis of a “living wage” determination. Jobs classified as temporary can pay less. In an interview, Michaud noted that a shortage of applications is usually not the problem in filling skilled trades positions.
“We may get 30, 40, 50 applications, but when you look at if they meet the minimum qualifications, that number goes down to maybe five or six individuals,” Michaud said. “And so we provide a competitive wage, but we’re not finding the people with the knowledge, skill and ability or that meet the minimum qualifications.”
Instead, the human resources staff meets many people “wishing” to meet the qualifications and tries to steer them to places such as Ogeechee Tech to obtain required certifications, he said. At Georgia Southern, the HR staff screens applicants for minimum qualifications, but actual hiring is done by hiring managers in the various colleges and departments.
Police and fire
Noting that the city government’s need for technical workers is less than that of manufacturers, Grant said the city does have difficulty at times finding mechanics, police officers and firefighters. The city has one mechanic position currently open, he said.
Four firefighter posts have recently been advertised as well, including three newly added ones and one replacement. But the application period for these has now closed.
During the discussion, Grant touted the opportunities for advancement up the ranks offered by police and firefighting jobs. Salaries for fire department middle managers, he said, start at about $40,000.
“There’s a lot of benefits that come along with it, and it’s a great profession, a great career, and a lot of students coming out of high school don’t see that,” Grant said. “I think a lot of students haven’t been exposed to that.”
Briggs & Stratton wants to spark interest in technical skills in students before they finish high school, Amanda See said. She is human resources manager at the small-engine manufacturer’s Statesboro plant, which has about 450 employees.
“What we’re working the hardest on is trying to get in our schools and get them out to our location as well and get kids interested in technical-type rolls where mechanical aptitude is very important, troubleshooting and thinking about how something works,” See said.
Specific skills can taught once the person is hired, but only if they start with some technical aptitude, she said.
Briggs was doing no production hiring, but had six or eight openings for mechanical positions, such as maintenance technicians, See said in an interview.
“There’s a lot of people out there, but we would take hundreds of applications and they wouldn’t match the qualifications we need,” she said.
Brodie International, which makes flow meters and valves for the petroleum industry, employs about 75 people. The company has low turnover and was not hiring as of Tuesday, but may soon begin a hiring process for one position in shipping and one in quality assurance, said Michelle Lau, the company’s finance director.
Panelists also shared pointers about job interviews, resumes and cover letters during the discussion, which was attended by more than 50 people, including a number of job seekers.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9454.

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