Manufacturers across the country, regardless of size, specialty or location, are reporting a shortage of skilled workers such as welders, fabricators, laser operators, electricians, press brake operators and machinists, according to a recent survey conducted by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International (www.fmanet.org/).

Members of the association said the biggest challenge they face is the dwindling supply of skilled workers, and a separate by Manpower Inc., corroborates the association's findings. The Manpower survey said engineers, machinists, and skilled trade workers are the three positions most challenging to fill in 2008.

In the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association survey, respondents said apprenticeship and internship programs are the most significant and appreciated tools to fill skilled labor positions, and that such programs give companies that sponsor them the opportunities to recruit, evaluate and hire needed employees while giving new employees improved training.

Midwest Metal Products, a precision sheet metal fabrication company based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has employed high school students for several years through a paid apprenticeship program.

“Our ultimate goal is to get interns to work for us full time after they complete schooling,” Joe Chiaramonte, plant manager for Midwest Metal Products, said.

During the past school year, Midwest Metal Products employed two students who worked part time and attended classes in the press brake department at the local trade school, Kirkwood Community College. Based on the success of the program, Chiaramonte said he expects to increase the number of interns at the plant to as many as six by next year.

“You can't beat on-the-job training coupled with classroom training. These students learn valuable skills throughout the year and often times become full-time at our plant,” Chiaramonte said.

Begneaud Manufacturing in Lafayette, La., offers a summer internship program for high school and college students, and the company works in liaison with local schools to create a customized program for each student's specific area of study. The company also offers a summer internship program.

“We typically employ three interns per summer, and past students have participated in a variety of niches at the company, including engineering, industrial technology, IT, marketing, mechanical engineering and even product design,” Andree Begneaud, co-owner of Begneaud Manufacturing, said.

Begneaud also offers an in-house apprenticeship program that introduces employees to every metalworking process at the company on a rotating basis. Currently, four employees are involved in an apprenticeship and partner with an experienced operator or skilled craftsmen mentor for three months for each specific practice.