Motorhome makers search for workers
Joseph Ogundu, the new manufacturing engineering director at Country Coach, represents just how far and wide the RV maker has been searching...
The (Eugene) Register-Guard
JUNCTION CITY, Ore. — Joseph Ogundu, the new manufacturing engineering director at Country Coach, represents just how far and wide the RV maker has been searching to find key hires.
The Nigerian-born Ogundu, 43, comes to Country Coach from DaimlerChrysler in Detroit, with 14 years of experience in the automotive industry.
Before learning about the opening in Oregon from a recruiter for Country Coach, Ogundu hadn't spent much time thinking about RVs. And he certainly didn't know that the Eugene area — home of Country Coach, Marathon Coach and Monaco Coach — was a hub for high-end motorhome manufacturing.
Ogundu admitted that initially he was "kind of skeptical" about coming to Eugene. But Gary Obermire, Country Coach's vice president of engineering, was persistent and asked: "Well, why don't you come out and see it?" Ogundu said.
He did, and came away impressed, he said.
"Most people in the auto industry, they don't really know a whole lot about the RV industry," Ogundu said. "The RV industry is a hidden secret."Ogundu discovered that secret and, on Jan. 24, started work at Country Coach. His family will join him this summer.
The industry is starting to realize that it must let more people in on its secret if it's going to find the workers it needs to continue to grow.
Country Coach plans to double its existing plant with a 330,000-square-foot addition, if it gets approvals from local officials. The 1,675-employee company has been short on workers for months now, and recently listed 50 openings.
Country Coach is conducting a national search for its professional openings, such as engineers and manufacturing managers, said Dan Bedore, Country Coach's human-resources director.
But the vacancies aren't limited to just the upper echelons. They're "everywhere from our entry-level positions to our professionals," Bedore said.
Country Coach isn't the only local RV manufacturer struggling to find skilled workers.
For more job information on the three Eugene-area RV manufacturers mentioned in this story:
Country Coach, Junction City, Ore. www.countrycoach.com/company and click on "Careers"
Marathon Coach, Coburg, Ore. www.marathoncoach.com/company.html and click on "Employment"
Monaco Coach, Coburg, Ore. www.monaco-online.com and click on "Job Opportunities"
"We experience much the same problems," said Michael Warner, human-resources director at Marathon Coach in Coburg.
"It's hardest to find qualified electrical workers, people with mechanical backgrounds, and cabinetmakers," he said, adding that the red-hot housing market may be temporarily draining the local pool of tradespeople.
Monaco Coach, also in Coburg, sometimes has trouble finding workers with the right skills but, so far, it has managed to hire and keep the workers it needs, said spokesman Craig Wanichek.
How can openings at RV companies go unfilled when the unemployment rate in the area is still quite high?
There's no simple answer, industry and labor experts say.
In part, the local RV industry is something of a victim of its own success. Lane County RV manufacturers employed about 4,500 workers in December, up 27 percent from December 2003, according to data from the Oregon Employment Department.
"When an industry is growing very rapidly, a skills gap tends to develop and they use up the available people who are willing and able to do that type of work," said Brian Rooney, an Employment Department labor economist.
A similar situation emerged in Oregon in the late 1990s when computer programmers and software engineers were highly sought after to feed a seemingly insatiable high-tech industry. The demand led to more Oregonians being trained in those fields and experienced workers moving to Oregon from out of state.
The problems RV manufacturers are experiencing aren't due only to a lack of skilled tradespeople. Many in the local workforce also lack what labor experts call "work readiness" or skills such as the ability to be responsible, communicate and work with others.
Country Coach doesn't require a high-school degree for entry-level production jobs, said Bedore. But other factors, such as a history of short-term jobs, could reduce an applicant's chances of getting hired, he said.
RV manufacturers, like all manufacturers nationwide, are having a harder time than in the past drawing young people to their industries, said Chuck Forster, executive director of the Lane Workforce Partnership.
Many young people are attracted to cleaner, computer-oriented jobs that they view as being more creative, Forster said.
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