One question that arises in the wake of Honda’s historic announcement of a $4.4 billion Dayton region investment in electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries to power them — where will Honda find the workers? Wanted: Talent Qualified Workers.
“The one thing that could put the brakes on Ohio’s manufacturing momentum, in my opinion, is a continuing or worsening labor shortage,” said Ryan Augsburger, president of the Ohio Manufacturing Association.
It’s a question that has been asked of Intel near Columbus, where at least 3,000 workers are planned, of Amazon near Union (about 1,800 workers) and of SEMCORP in Sidney (1,200 workers) — all big companies establishing big operations in rural areas near urban centers.
Honda’s ambitions are big. Already employing more than 14,000 Ohioans, the automaker wants to bring on 2,200 new workers by the end of 2025 for a new, $3.5 billion plant in in Fayette County. The plant will produce pouch-type batteries for EV production at other Honda plants.
Another 300 workers will be needed as plants in Marysville, East Liberty and Anna are re-tooled for production of electric vehicles. (Production of gas-powered vehicles will continue for some time, a Honda executive said last week.)
This is not a new problem. And it’s not a problem unique to Honda. Every business, within and outside manufacturing, has struggled to find and retain talent.
‘We do need more folks’
There are already some 700,000 Ohioans employed in manufacturing today, the largest subset of those working in transportation equipment production. More than 113,000 people statewide are making cars, trucks, aviation equipment and more.
“There are a lot of people there,” Augsburger said. “But announcements like Intel and Honda and so many other ones are going to strain that.”
Steve Staub, owner of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Vandalia, welcomes Honda’s plans. He doesn’t see Honda as a magnet that will pull away his own workers.
“It is certainly a good thing for our region, and I was excited to hear that Honda chose our region to build the new EV battery plant,” he said.
But he added: “We do however need more folks going into the manufacturing industry.”
Angelia Erbaugh, president of the Dayton Region Manufacturers Association, and her members have lived with the issue for years.
She expects an initial bout of discomfort as Honda works to bring on the 2,200 EV battery plant workers by the end of 2025.
Honda has not provided a precise location for the battery plant, saying only that it will be near Interstate 71 and U.S. 35. Honda is in the process of taking ownership of the land, a spokesman said last week.
That would put the plant about an hour or so from Dayton, maybe less.
“The initial hit is going to be tough for manufacturers because they’re going to get those workers by poaching them from other companies,” Erbaugh said.
Longer-term, though, the news is good, she believes.
“It will help to dramatically elevate the perception of manufacturing careers across the state in the eyes particularly of parents,” she said. “Ultimately, this is just very good news.”
Filling the talent pipeline
The new Honda workers are expected to come from Dayton, Springfield, Columbus, Cincinnati and parts of Appalachia, Honda and state leaders have said.
Honda did not make anyone available to comment for this story, but released a statement, saying: “Honda has had great success over the last 40 years in locating our facilities in communities that are a good fit for our operations, and we expect this success to continue for our joint venture facility with LG Energy Solution.
“We determined that Fayette County represents something of a sweet spot, with access to major transportation routes, and an attractive local community that has a strong potential workforce while also being accessible to a diverse hiring pool in the surrounding area, which includes Columbus, Dayton, and Southern Ohio,” Honda also said. “Considering these factors, we are confident that our joint venture with LG Energy Solution will be in a strong position to attract a quality workforce. “
Jeff Hoagland, president and chief executive of the Dayton Development Coalition, sees Fayette County as a savvy location choice, allowing Honda to pull workers from four markets.
“Geographically, it was very strategic,” he said.
With a location near I-71 and U.S. 35, “You can get north, south, east, west, extremely well,” he said.
Pushing the Worker Numbers Up
“There are not enough people working in manufacturing today,” Augsburger said. “We need more people employed in the manufacturing sector. We have more jobs than there are people working.”
“One of our top issues has been for years that we can’t find enough qualified workers. And now, in the last two years, every other industry is facing the same challenge. It’s an even bigger problem for us,” Erbaugh said.
The need is to increase the “talent pipeline,” Augsburger said. That means making people aware of the benefits of manufacturing careers.
Augsburger cites those benefits as “above average pay,” family-sustaining jobs and the ability to launch a career without massive college debt.
Not just young people should be invited to the field, he added. Opportunities can be made available to good employees in other fields, veterans, women and citizens building new lives after incarceration, he said.
Anyone willing to learn work, “We want them,” Augsburger said.
Staub points to organizations like XtremeSTEM, which has young people build robots and drones for competitions.
Such programs open eyes and minds, he believes.
“Many companies around the region have skilled trades workers making anywhere from $60,000 to over $100,000 per year. Without a four-year degree,” Staub said.
‘Once in a lifetime’
The coalition’s Hoagland said a lot of this comes down to companies that “know what they are doing,” he said.
“They have some of the brightest people working for them,” he said. “They made a decision, a very smart and wise decision, to locate this new, once-in-lifetime facility in Fayette County.”
“They’ve been doing it for 45 years,” he said of Honda’s history in Ohio. “They have the trust and the faith in government. In higher ed , in the supply chain and in businesses to take them into the next 50 years.”
Still, Ohio must retain more of its college graduates, he said. Vocational schools and high schools need to be a critical players. And the state needs to work directly with companies. “And those are things that are happening,” he said.
Wanted: Talent Qualified Workers Ohio Manufacturing Association – https://www.ohiomfg.com/