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Published: Saturday, 9/21/2013 - Updated: 2 years ago

Lack of skills keeps workers from positions

Portman says shortage poses major challenge to economy

Tom Carros, left, discusses a machine that makes generic 2-liter pop bottles to Sen. Rob Portman during his tour Friday of the Plastic Technologies Inc. plant in Holland. Tom Carros, left, discusses a machine that makes generic 2-liter pop bottles to Sen. Rob Portman during his tour Friday of the Plastic Technologies Inc. plant in Holland.
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Sen. Rob Portman said Friday one of the significant challenges for the economy isn’t a lack of jobs, but a lack of qualified applicants.

“That’s a big concern right now,” said Mr. Portman (R., Ohio). “We’ve got a lot of people who are out of work, and yet we have a lot of jobs open. And the reason we have this gap between the jobs that are open and the people out of work is largely because of the lack of skills.”

The senator was in northwest Ohio to meet with business leaders. He made his comments after touring Plastic Technologies Inc., a Holland-based company that is a worldwide leader in plastic packaging design and development.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Portman met with several other area businessmen at a roundtable held at Owens Corning. He said one issue people there raised was that they get plenty of applications for openings, but few from people who meet their qualifications.

It’s a concern he hears frequently, he said.

“They don’t have the ability to be able to bring people in who don’t have the skills and train them up,” he said. “It’s too expensive. They need to be able to find people who have the skill set.”

Mr. Portman praised the work Tom Brady, the founder and chairman of Plastic Technologies, has done in the training and education arena. That included a stint as interim dean of the University of Toledo Judith Herb College of Education.

Mr. Portman says the federal government spends $15 billion a year on worker retraining programs, but he argues there’s very little done to gauge their success.

He has paired with a Colorado Democrat to introduce legislation that he says would help that money be spent more effectively.

Another method could be to get the private sector involved by providing stipends to companies who train workers with new skills, an idea Mr. Brady pitched to Mr. Portman.

“We have the capability to do that,” Mr. Brady said in an interview. “We have the training capability, we have all that state-of-the-art equipment; you try to go train like that at an engineering school or a community college, you just don’t have that same capacity.”

Mr. Portman seemed receptive to the idea.

The senator also said the United States needs to work harder to make it easier to keep those who come to this country for an education.

“When a young person gets out of a PhD program or a master’s program at the University of Toledo in one of the STEM disciplines — science, technology, engineering, math — we ought to staple a green card to that diploma and get them to stay here,” he said.

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.

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