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Manufacturers find innovative, but untrained SoCal work force

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San Diego might have more manufacturing restrictions than most other places in the world, but the weather and the work force can't be beat, said panelists at a Daily Transcript roundtable Tuesday.

"There's no work force in the world today that's better than the work force in San Diego. Period," said Frederick Harris, president of shipbuilder General Dynamics NASSCO.

Several of the executives at the roundtable said the innovative spirit many potential employees show makes San Diego a hub for finding good people.

But it's not all about sunshine and hard workers. Skilled laborers are hard to come by in a state where Advanced Placement classes have replaced industrial arts standards like wood and auto shop in some high schools.

"High schools are doing a disservice to kids who don't want to go to college," said Steve Copp, the chief executive officer of Plenums Plus, a sheet metal fabricator.

The lack of specialized labor has resulted in several of the companies in attendance hiring and training technically unqualified people.

Several roundtable participants said their hiring practices have evolved over the years. For example, rather than finding an employee who can weld aluminum, an employer might hire someone with some welding experience and train that person in the more complex ways of working with various metals.

Training costs can be high despite some government funding available, but Ted Fogliani, CEO of Outsource Manufacturing, said there are some other benefits to it as well.

"Almost whenever we have someone come in for an interview, we have them go to two or three departments because we're going to train them. Now, the one good thing that's happening is they now do (their job) the way we want them to do it," Fogliani said.

He said finding good, hard-working, dynamic people has helped the company succeed.

Roy Paulson, owner of Paulson Manufacturing, said he uses temporary staffing agencies to do some of the vetting for him.

"I use a temp agency for almost every position," he said.

The problem, however, is that temporary employees sometimes see the job as temporary work. Paulson said that makes it crucial he lets the temporary workers know the job could lead to a full-time position.

Most of the executives who spoke about their companies said they try to grow leadership from within.

Part of the issue is the cost involved with moving people into Southern California -- an area with some of the highest housing costs in the United States.

Dave Hester said his technology company, Kyocera America Inc., is no exception.

"Sometimes we do have to bring people in. I first got here in 1977 and I can tell you personally: From 1977 to now, it's a challenge," he said.

Send your comments to Jennifer.Lebron@sddt.com

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