ARCHIVED  August 1, 1997

Lack of labor slows economy

Companies alter business practices to compensate

Every company, it seems, is affected one way or another by the broad shortage of labor along the northern Front Range.
From manufacturing companies in need of employees with basic blue-collar skills to those seeking highly trained engineers, the hunt to fill jobs can be a headache.
Indeed, Joni Friedman, employment and training services director for Larimer County, says the supply-and-demand problems of labor are the worst she’s seen.
“I’ve been with the county 20 years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” she said.
While no one can really predict what sort of long-term economic impact the labor shortage will produce, it already is prompting some companies to change the way they do business.
“It seems to be more and more difficult to find the people we need for any sort of growth,´ said David Carson, president of CBW Automation.
For Carson’s company, the issue boils down to competitiveness. The automation-equipment and robotics manufacturing company does not compete with other companies in the Northern Colorado area. That means CBW’s competitors likely are not facing the same labor crises as are companies here.
“We operate under certain assumptions as to what our costs are,” Carson said. “We recognized they would become a problem.”
So five months ago, his company adopted a whole new way of doing business based on the Toyota production program.
Carson read Jim Womack’s book, “Lean Thinking,” about how the efficiency of Toyota’s production system is changing industries that implement the theories.
“It’s based on making your process a flow, rather than having departments that are discipline-based, such as a machine shop, engineering department, and so on,” he said.
“It’s the most incredible thing,” Carson said, “but changing has not been comfortable.”
It’s difficult to rethink one’s whole way of doing business, he said. Still, case studies in Womack’s book indicate that after three years of hard cultural change, companies using the Toyota system are twice as productive as they previously were.
Still, Carson said the company will always keep looking for trained engineers and programmers as well as employees with basic skills.
The county’s Friedman said that in addition to matching employees with employers, the county also works hard to help the workers keep their jobs.
“Employers tell us that the biggest issue is ‘soft skills,'” she said.
That includes everything from getting to work on time to being able to separate personal issues from the work place. Additionally, a lack of problem-solving skills and the ability to work in teams often hinders a company’s productivity.
“We work intensely on matching people’s soft and hard skills and getting them to retain their jobs,” Friedman said.
That also means that workers in transition or new to the work force need accessible and affordable child care.
But employers need more than just people. “This (labor shortage) trend in not just one of employers needing more bodies,” Friedman said. “They need the people to have the right skills, too.”
Carson says one of the primary economic impacts he sees on the labor force is the cost of living in Northern Colorado.
“Part of the wage pressure on employers has to do with the cost of living and government policies,” he said, noting that it is not cheap for workers to live in the area, nor is it economical for companies trying to expand by building new space.
There is a positive side to the labor crunch, points out Don Churchwell, head of the Loveland Economic Development Council Inc.
“It means that some people who were under-employed are getting better jobs,” he said. “It all depends on what side of the fence you’re on. This has been good for employees because their wages are better.
“Sometimes, though, it becomes a vicious cycle for everyone,” Churchwell said, noting that when employees are being better paid and unemployment is low, the employers then are feeling the demands of not having an adequate labor supply.
Roland Mower, president of the Fort Collins Economic Development Corp., said businesses inquiring about the area used to be primarily focused on real-estate costs.
Now, he said, they say, “Tell us about your work force.
“They are not going to go to a community that doesn’t meet their needs,” he said.

Companies alter business practices to compensate

Every company, it seems, is affected one way or another by the broad shortage of labor along the northern Front Range.
From manufacturing companies in need of employees with basic blue-collar skills to those seeking highly trained engineers, the hunt to fill jobs can be a headache.
Indeed, Joni Friedman, employment and training services director for Larimer County, says the supply-and-demand problems of labor are the worst she’s seen.
“I’ve been with the county 20 years, and I’ve never seen it like this,” she said.
While no one can really predict what sort of long-term…

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