Vt. manufacturers call for more math in schools - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. manufacturers call for more math in schools

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Growth is GW Plastics' mantra.

"We're up over 10 percent this year; we're up over 10 percent the prior year," said Brenan Riehl, the CEO of GW Plastics.

The manufacturing company started in a Bethel dairy barn in 1955. It's now grown to 1,000 employees in multiple countries. Most of the growth has been here in Vermont.

"Our headquarters is here; our center of gravity is here," Riehl said.

Between Bethel and Royalton the company has some 300 workers making medical and automotive parts. The CEO says they could grow even more, but there's a major roadblock standing in the way.

"What we need is we need the people," Riehl said.

The company says it constantly has job openings it can't seem to fill.

"Other companies in Vermont are screaming for people. And these aren't just ordinary jobs; they're high-paying jobs. These are jobs that require a strong skill set," Riehl said.

Their human resources director, Cathy Tempesta, has been reading resumes for the past 10 years. She says the ones she sees now are missing something and she's not the only one in the state noticing.

"We started talking about our difficulties in hiring people and finding people, and it turns out, we're not alone. There's other companies that have the same problems," Tempesta said.

It's something the governor says he's been hearing across the state-- high-paying tech jobs are available, and there's room to grow in these companies. They just need more people. They say people that have the math skills to fill the job is what's lacking.

"We're almost being forced to provide the training ourselves. The intellect is there; it's just a question of the training. And a lot of the curriculums that we're seeing with local high schools don't really necessarily have a focus on manufacturing," Riehl said.

So they're building their own workforce, creating a program at Vermont Technical College where students get to work while taking classes.

The school's president, Philip Conroy, says it's a start.

"Part of our challenge is getting people to understand the importance of the jobs we have here in Vermont, that they're technically oriented, they're math-based and they're good career builders for them," Conroy said.

But he says the underlying issue needs to be addressed statewide in terms of education.

"I think we need to look at more math and science in the elementary schools and the high schools. We need calculus-trained workers and that is going to require students take more mathematics in their high school and in their middle school sequences," Conroy said.

And to be successful, he says educators need to find ways to make the subjects relevant to kids' lives.

"We have to help them understand math is something that is going to help them get to where they want to go. And if they understand why they're using it, we find it's much easier for them to really enjoy the subject," Conroy said.

The stakes are high.

"The workforce right now I don't think matches the jobs that are available," Conroy said.

For GW Plastics that might mean having to consider leaving their roots.

"Our preference is to grow in Vermont," Riehl said. "But if we can't get it done in terms of finding the right level of workforce and the right skill set, it's going to force us to move outside of Vermont, which is not what we want to do."

Not because they don't have the work, but because they can't find the workforce.

GW Plastics says right now it has about half a dozen open jobs listed and will be looking to hire between 20 and 30 people this year.

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