ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

Advanced Energy mulled busing workers from Wyo.

FORT COLLINS – At one point, Susan Schell thought the answer to her company’s labor problems might be to bus employees in from Denver or Cheyenne, Wyo.But the vice president of quality and human resources for Advanced Energy Industries Inc. soon realized that Denver had an unemployment level at least as low as Fort Collins’ and Cheyenne couldn’t offer the qualified work force the high-tech company needed.
Back to the drawing board.
Advanced Energy is suffering from the same problem that plagues so many other companies in the region. The 16-year-old Fort Collins-based manufacturer of power-conversion devices for the semiconductor industries and other sectors can’t find the number of workers it needs to reach its optimum level of production.
“We’re looking for everything,” Schell said. “We have positions open from entry-level to executive level, and we can’t fill them fast enough.”
Schell said the company has recruiters scouring the country for high-level employees, while temporary hires from employment agencies supplement the entry-level work force. But the company has at least 100 positions waiting to be filled.
“Any hiring we do is negated by our growth,” she said. “We put ads in the papers, participate in and run our own job fairs, visit the schools and participate in school-to-work programs, but there simply aren’t enough employable people in the region to fill these jobs.”
Advanced Energy’s labor shortage has forced the company to raise its entry-level wage from $6.50 to $7.50 per hour. It also means the company must pay more overtime wages. Direct labor works an additional 25 percent overtime, which taxes workers and contributes to turnover, Schell said. And with fewer people available to do the work in-house, more outsourcing to companies out of state is necessary.
The regional and national labor shortage is contributing to the company’s work-force woes, but another problem is the tenuous nature of the electronics industry.
Last year, Advanced Energy saw a downturn in the semiconductor business. As customers reevaluated their needs, the trickle-down effect on the company resulted in canceled orders and a need to reduce its number of employees. Schell said some temporary positions were eliminated, but the continuous work force felt little impact.
Still, nervousness in the industry sent some of the company’s higher-level employees looking for other work. Now that business has picked up again, Advanced Energy needs those engineers, programmers and designers, and the competition with companies such as Hewlett Packard Co. and Symbios Logic Inc. for such skilled employees is fierce. Regionally, nationally and internationally, high-tech companies vie for the cream of the crop, using the lure of high salaries and plumped up benefits to tempt them away from fellow employers.
Advanced Energy does recruit from the schools – the University of Colorado’s electrical engineering program in particular – but Schell said the company needs skilled workers who can hit the ground running.
“We have to recruit nationally because we need people with experience, but we can’t just depend on luring people from the outside. We have to cultivate our own employees,” she said.
Schell is satisfied with the quality of employees she does find, and in-house training programs help bring entry-level workers up to speed on their computer and assembly skills. The company has also contracted with a career counselor who provides objective guidance to employees looking to define their interests, strengths and weaknesses, and the company pays a percentage of employees’ tuition for course work and educational programs related to the job.
“It’s an excellent time for those who don’t think they’re employable to enter the job market,” she said. “We have an amazing variety of people. Almost everyone is being considered.”
While Schell admits there is an immediacy to the company’s labor shortage, she’s confident there’s a solution somewhere, though it may not be in Fort Collins.
“This is a highly educated community with some aversion for industrial growth,” she said “Everyone is clamoring to help solve the labor problem, but we’re also exploring other opportunities for growth, especially in other countries.”
Approximately 30 percent of Advanced Energy’s employees are involved in manufacturing, the greatest area of need for labor. Inevitably, Schell said, the company has to look at the practicality of keeping a manufacturing site in an area where people aren’t available to staff it. Advanced Energy will maintain its Fort Collins site, Schell added. But with subsidiary operations currently in Germany, England and Japan, and negotiations underway in Korea, the company is looking at continued expansion into areas where labor is more plentiful.

FORT COLLINS – At one point, Susan Schell thought the answer to her company’s labor problems might be to bus employees in from Denver or Cheyenne, Wyo.But the vice president of quality and human resources for Advanced Energy Industries Inc. soon realized that Denver had an unemployment level at least as low as Fort Collins’ and Cheyenne couldn’t offer the qualified work force the high-tech company needed.
Back to the drawing board.
Advanced Energy is suffering from the same problem that plagues so many other companies in the region. The 16-year-old Fort Collins-based manufacturer of power-conversion devices for the semiconductor…

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