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Local manufacturers discuss hiring challenges

September 19, 2018

The vice president of operations for PROOF Research acknowledged Tuesday that the local firearm manufacturing company sometimes struggles to hire skilled workers.

“The biggest challenge is workforce,” said Jim Wright, who described PROOF Research as being basically a high-volume, high-tech machine shop.

“We hire a lot of machine operators. There are really not any out there to hire, so we have to hire them from within,” he said.

Wright was one of four panelists Tuesday during a luncheon sponsored by the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce at the Red Lion Hotel. The event helped kick off Flathead Manufacturing Month, which revolves around National Manufacturing Day - which is Oct. 5 this year.

The chamber said manufacturing is the fastest-growing industry in the Flathead Valley, which it said is home to more than 500 manufacturers.

Other panelists included Kyle Cram of Weyerhaeuser, Steven Thompson of Thompson Precision and Laura Gardner, manager of Job Service Kalispell.

Thompson Precision’s customers include, among others, the aerospace and petrochemical industries.

Cram and Thompson described the challenges of finding workers with the skillsets their companies need.

All three men said one key has been to find employees with the aptitude to be trained in house, through internal apprenticeship programs or other approaches.

The panelists, along with moderator Kristen Heck of LC Staffing, emphasized, too, that manufacturers need to spread the word to parents, teachers and young people that the industry has changed from the days of dark, dirty and dangerous factories. Advanced manufacturing is a different animal, they said.

The Flathead Valley is not alone in struggling with a shortage of skilled labor. Communities nationwide are facing similar challenges as the baby boom generation retires and as high-tech manufacturing demands unique sets of skills.

Thompson said the Flathead Valley’s environs can aid recruitment when filling a specific job requires casting a wider net. People love to live here, he said.

And the men agreed that one untapped hiring resource is women.

“We would love to see women machinists,” Thompson said.

To register for the upcoming Flathead Manufacturing Month events and tours, visit www.kalispellchamber.com or call 758-2803.

Reporter Duncan Adams may be reached at dadams@dailyinterlake.com or 758-4407.

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