More demand seen for manufacturing jobs in Whatcom County

With manufacturing on the upswing locally, Whatcom County companies spent part of Friday, Oct. 3 showing high school students what they have to offer in terms of careers.

TriVan Truck Body of Ferndale was one of several local manufacturers that gave facility tours on National Manufacturing Day. The company, which builds custom trucks, trailers and containers, has been busy latey and one of its challenges is finding qualified employees. The company currently has 85 employees and currently needs another 10, said Cason VanDriel of TriVan.

“We wanted these students to understand that we have some interesting jobs that are available,” VanDriel said, adding that he was pleased the group he was with looked genuinely interested in the different jobs done at the facility.

The number of manufacturing jobs in Whatcom County has steadily grown the past few years. The industry employed 9,300 people locally in July and August, according to data from the Washington State Employment Security Department. That’s the highest monthly totals since December 2007.

The increased demand for manufacturing workers is something Bellingham Technical College has noticed and is addressing, said Lin Nelson, director of the Northwest Business and Industry Training Institute at the school. BTC and the Port of Bellingham organized the event, which included about 80 high school students visiting TriVan, Oxbo International, SMC Gear and Wood Stone Corp.

“It’s absolutely amazing what this county produces,” Nelson said. “We are getting calls from many different local companies asking for workers.”

One recent trend Nelson has noticed is companies asking for workers with multiple skills. Increasingly, workers are expected to be able to read blueprints and handle different types of machinery. That’s good to know for BTC officials, who regularly meet with companies in order to tailor its classes to what companies need, he said.

At TriVan, business has picked up as the company continues to attract customers. VanDriel said the company recently landed a national contract with the American Red Cross to build the next generation of command center vehicles. The variety of customers at TriVan includes oil companies, movie production companies and mobile meat processing vendors.

“We’ve always sought to be as diverse as possible in the number of customers we have,” he said.

Not so long ago, officials in the manufacturing industry were concerned that it was being ignored by high schools and parents interested in geting teenagers into four-year universities for white-collar careers. VanDriel said he’s noticed a change in recent years, with the manufacturing industry being helped by television celebrity Mike Rowe’s work at promoting skilled trades through his mikeroweWORKS Foundation.

Nelson said he’s also noticed a change, with some high schools offering manufacturing technology resources.

“More high schools are helping creating pathways for students to these jobs,” Nelson said, adding that the jobs in today’s manufacturing companies require more skill variety, which can be attractive to potential employees.