Certain Green Industries Have Job Openings

Tens of thousands of layoffs in the Midwest have left a huge pool of job-seekers. In Ohio, wind turbine makers say they have jobs available that offer good pay and benefits. But they say they are having trouble finding skilled workers for that renewable energy industry.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In these hard times, there are some manufacturing sectors that are thriving. That's true for the renewable energy industry especially. Still, as these companies look to hire, some are having trouble finding workers that are a good match for the jobs in the new industries. From Kent, Ohio, Julie Grant reports.

JULIE GRANT: On the floor of this steel factory in Northeast Ohio, workers are making parts for wind turbines. The company, Rotek Incorporated, is going through something unusual in this economy, an $80 million expansion. The employees here work at separate stations on the concrete floor, building giant bearings that can weigh 20 tons each and have a diameter measuring nearly two stories high. Company president Len Osborne says that this is high-pressure precision work. He's looking to hire another 150 people in the next year or two, but he's having a tough time.

Mr. LEN OSBORNE (President, Rotek Inc.): The problems that we're finding are many applicants for jobs here, for machine operators, claim to have that experience, but we're not seeing that. We're therefore having to turn a lot of people away.

GRANT: Ohio's jobless rate is among the nation's highest. And Rotek is one of 75 companies here that have started making parts for wind turbines. According to an industry trade group, most of them can't find enough skilled workers. But George Kalko is skeptical. He's a local rep with the United Steelworkers union in Warren. He's seen so many guys laid off as plant after plant closed down in this region. He says there are thousands of people eager to work with steel again.

Mr. GEORGE KALKO (Union Representative, United Steelworkers Union, Warren): I'll tell you, these companies that say they can't find a workforce, I'll tell them to call any local steelworkers union hall, and we'll find you a workforce.

GRANT: So why aren't the new green manufacturers hiring those unemployed blue-collar workers? Phil Angelides heads the Apollo Alliance, a group that works with the business, labor, and environmental communities to push for clean energy. He says that workers making those huge bearings for wind turbines need different skills than those in some of the older jobs, molding knives or lawnmower decks.

Mr. PHIL ANGELIDES (Chairman, Apollo Alliance): We need to match incentives and investments in renewable energy with job training and skill training that matches the contours of this new industry. This will not happen magically.

GRANT: Angelides says what's needed are targeted training programs. But it still doesn't add up for George Kalko. He insists that lots of workers who've been laid off from the steel and auto industries already know the basics of how to do these new green jobs.

Mr. KALKO: I really do believe that when broken down, whether it's a ball bearing for a truck axle, a ball bearing for a wind turbine rudder, no matter what that ball bearing is used for, we've got skilled workers that know how to make that ball bearing.

GRANT: Kalko suspects that the new wind turbine companies aren't finding workers because they're not offering high enough wages and benefits. Still, some of these are union jobs. The starting salary with benefits at many wind turbine plants in Ohio can range to $30,000 a year. But that can be tough to swallow for guys in their 50s who were making more than twice that much a decade ago in the old steel plants.

Some studies show that Ohio could gain as many as a hundred thousand new jobs in the renewable energy field. And the new companies, the ones already making parts for wind turbines, say they don't want burned-out workers with low morale. What they need are workers open to spending a couple of years in training, who can think on their feet and are excited to be part of the new economy they're helping to create. For NPR News, I'm Julie Grant in Kent, Ohio.

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