In May, Eric Maglio traveled to a conference in Florida, showed some Northrop Grumman executives clips of the miniature X-47B unmanned aircraft he’d just built, and was offered a job on the spot.
Three months later, the 21-year-old Purdue graduate began working out of Northrop Grumman’s Unmanned Systems Center of Excellence in Rancho Bernardo.
“I look at potential new missions for unmanned systems, and I come up with airplane configurations that might meet those missions,” Maglio said.
Not everyone is cut out do what Maglio does, but innovative companies across San Diego County had a related message to the public on Friday for the third annual Manufacturing Day: We’re hiring at all levels, but we can’t always find qualified people.
About 25 San Diego manufacturers opened their doors for tours on Friday, showing that the region is home to more than just makers of unmanned aerial vehicles. San Diegans produce golf clubs, skateboards, craft beer, satellite communications and products that map the human genome, to name a few. Across the country, 1,600 businesses worked collectively to promote a field still battling back from the Great Recession, but adding jobs that pay middle class wages and above.
If only it were so easy to fill those jobs.
“This isn’t your father’s factory floor anymore,” said Jack Stewart, president of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association. “Just as manufacturers have retooled their operations to be more efficient, more clean, more innovative, the universities, community colleges, the high schools must retool their education systems.”
In August, 96,900 people worked in the manufacturing sector in the county. It’s an uptick from last year, but still 7,000 below the peak level seen before the recession, according to the Employment Development Department.
Bob Cassidy, senior director of operations at ViaSat, which makes satellite communications, said at a downtown panel discussion that kicked off manufacturing day that there’s a structural issue in the employment pipeline.
“Our workforce has been stable, there’s been very low turnover, but I also would characterize it as an aging population, especially on the electro-mechanical assembly line,” he said. “We’re not seeing the candidate pool of, for example, solderers that we’d expect.”
Kevin Graney, vice president and general manager of General Dynamics NASSCO, said the shipbuilding and repair organization is looking for anyone who can fit or weld.
“We end up training everybody that basically comes in the gate,” he said. “We’ve got eight weeks to develop a fitter or welder, before they’re out on the production run. We have had really only frankly limited success doing it any other way.”
Cassidy said community colleges and other educational institutions should take a hands on approach to engage students and get them interested in the field, such as showing them how video game controllers and drones operate.
“Try to get them interested in behind the scenes. How does this work? It is not magic,” he said. “Enhanced computer skills in our industry, you simply cant have enough of it.”
Dave Klimkiewicz, co-founder of Sector 9 skateboards, said finding more qualified applicants could just be a matter of getting back to the basics.
“Wood shops, auto shops, metal shops, at the end of the day not everybody’s going to go to college, but everybody needs to work and live and raise a family,” he said.
Those in the panel also touted San Diego’s collaborative effort among businesses, as well as opportunities created by the region’s proximity to Mexico. They also touched on the higher costs of doing business in California, compared with other regions.
Photo: Eric Maglio, 21, holds up his model X-47B unmanned aircraft at the Northrop Grumman offices in Rancho Bernardo. — Jonathan Horn
Source: UT San Diego