The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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October 23, 2011

Job fair highlights worker shortage

MANKATO — Through all his years in business, even when unemployment was low, Larry Biederman never had trouble finding workers.

On Tuesday he will, for the first time, set up at a job fair to try and entice people to work for his LJP Enterprises business.

“We don’t get a lot of applications from people who are qualified to work. It’s hard to find people who physically want to work,” said Biederman, whose waste hauling and recycling services cover a 125-mile radius.

In mid-November he’ll be opening a recycling center in North Mankato and will need more workers to add to his 90-employee roster.

Twenty-five manufacturing companies will participate in the job fair 2-7 p.m. Tuesday at Verizon Wireless Center, sponsored by Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association.

Biederman said hiring gets particularly tough for jobs requiring certain skills, like truck drivers and mechanics.

“One of the first obstacles with drivers is they have to be DOT (certified) and drug free. And with our insurance coverage we have to go back three years looking at their records.”

State employment officials have long warned of a big shortage in qualified truck drivers and noted there are few truck driving schools. “The nearest one is in Dakota County,” Biederman said. “It’d be nice if one of the schools could set up a driving school around here.”

Doug Fahrforth, founder of Blue Star Energy Systems near Lake Crystal, said his growing company has also had trouble attracting potential employees.

“We just don’t get a lot of applications,” said Fahrforth, whose business makes custom-built backup generators. The company has grown from three to 30 employees in five years.

The business needs employees with a range of expertise, from engineers to entry level assembly positions. Fahrforth said all positions draw little attention.

“It’s not just finding qualified engineers, it’s across the board.”

One thing Fahrforth hasn’t been able to use to entice potential employees is group health insurance. “There’s just no way we can afford to do it. We add some (money) to their pay and they can do what they wish with it (to buy insurance).”      

Tuesday’s job fairs will include representatives from: Chart Inc., Emerson Network Power Connectivity Solution, Jack Links, Jones Metal Products Inc., LJP Waste & Recycle, MICO Inc., Nortech Systems, Parker Hannifin, Schwickert’s Co., and TBEI/Crysteel Mfg.

Companies will be accepting applications and will speak to attendees about the education and training requirements needed to pursue a career in manufacturing.

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