This is Cambridge-Lee Industries, in Reading, Pennsylvania. For nearly 75 years, this plant on the Schuylkill River has produced copper tubing, mostly for plumbing, heating and refrigeration.
[New vice president of human resource] Fischetti is facing a challenge a lot of manufacturers in the area have: an aging workforce. During the long manufacturing downturn in the 1990s and 2000s, the factories that survived had no trouble finding skilled workers, he said, and many didn’t invest in training younger ones.
“Over time that has now hurt our organization, where we have a population that are very far along in their career that are really good,” he said, “but we have this population that we recruited but we never developed.”
With the economy growing and about a quarter of the area’s manufacturing workforce set to retire in the next 10 years, employers like Cambridge-Lee now find themselves scrambling for skilled workers.Gee, seems like quite a problem - maybe you need to train some more people?
“We said, 'If you want to increase your skillset, pick a class, pay for it, go to it. If you pass, we’ll reimburse you,'” he said. “So I asked, 'How effective was that? How many people did that?' And the answer was none.”
Why would they go to class in their spare time, he said, when they were working 60 or 70 hours a week? So Fischetti started a new program to send workers to Reading Area Community College. One day a week, they work a half shift and then spend the rest of the day in class, learning how to troubleshoot and repair mechanical breakdowns. The company pays them for their time and travel, and covers the tuition.That sounds great! I wonder who is paying for it.
The training isn’t cheap. It’ll cost about $62,000 for the first crop of 16 workers, but Cambridge-Lee will be reimbursed more than half of that with state and federal funds. The company is one of about 20 local employers receiving funding through the Berks County Workforce Development Board to train existing workers.Something tells me that if Cambridge-Lee lays off workers or closes the plant, neither the state of Pennsylvania or the federal government will get reimbursed. 'Twas ever thus.