The largest employer in Davidson, N.C., has a problem.
Many know the products Ingersoll Rand makes, such as Trane air conditioners and Club Car golf carts, even if they don’t know the parent company’s name. The Irish conglomerate with its North American headquarters in Davidson has grown to about 2,000 local employees since planting its roots in the town in the mid 1970s.
The problem is that the company has about 1,000 open jobs that it’s having trouble filling.
The main cause of that is the skills gap, CEO Michael Lamach said in an interview, a shortage of workers with the necessary technical skills to handle machinery, perform service on the equipment and use advanced technology, among other things.
It’s a perplexing thing, too, since the jobs are often high-paying, and usually don’t require college degrees, Lamach said. Commercial technicians at Ingersoll Rand, for example, can make up to $105,000 a year without having attended a four-year university.
“Most parents, I think, will coach their kids to go to college, and in doing so, are not thinking about some of the vocational areas,” he said.
Filling the pipeline with fresh young talent is a task he and hundreds of other manufacturing leaders around the U.S. are prioritizing through community outreach, recruitment in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs and efforts to create enjoyable workplaces for employees.
Labor shortages are a problem anywhere the economy is growing, said Mark Vitner, Charlotte, N.C.-based economist for Wells Fargo. It’s a particularly acute problem in construction and in manufacturing.
Ingersoll Rand considers itself something of a manufacturing mainstay: It makes large equipment that’s expensive to transport, and it employs thousands of technicians whose job includes servicing and diagnostics.
Manufacturing was once considered the economic lifeblood of North Carolina. But employment has dwindled over the years as work moved overseas and technology made operations more efficient.
The industry’s image has also hurt recruitment efforts, Vitner said. “You think of all the dirty blue-collar jobs that used to exist,” he said. “Changing that reputation is hard.”
Lamach dismissed the idea that legislation or a change in policy could bring back the thousands of jobs that the manufacturing industry has lost over the years. Rather, he said, manufacturers must figure out how to embrace automation. Automation will claim some U.S. jobs, he said, but some of those are roles people just don’t want to do, Lamach said.
Advanced manufacturing “requires integration of software and hardware to make them work,” he said. “When you do that, you’re creating jobs that are going to last for a long time.”
Retaining good talent is just as important for Ingersoll Rand as recruiting in local high schools and community colleges.
Keeping workers happy not only means providing competitive pay, but also creating a workplace in which employees feel engaged, Lamach said, citing Ingersoll Rand’s sustainability efforts and ethics in particular.
For example, Ingersoll Rand has started manufacturing its air conditioners to produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.