Labor shortage: It isn’t just the low unemployment rate |

Labor shortage: It isn’t just the low unemployment rate

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Bob Hutton, customer service supervisor at Micromanipulator Co. Inc., performs final tests at the plant on Wednesday morning.

Micromanipulator in Carson City offers good wages for its employees, as well as benefits and tuition reimbursement for work-related education. The company has about 10 openings in technical, engineering and manufacturing positions.

So why aren’t qualified technicians applying?

Some economic officials point to Carson City’s 4.2 percent October unemployment rate as an indicator of the labor shortage.

“It is a more difficult time for employers to find people because there are not that many people looking,” said Tina Grefrath, center manager for Carson City JobConnect.

She said technical jobs are hard to fill because local school districts and colleges are not creating enough people with that training.

In the Carson City area, there are 1,133 people who are claiming unemployment benefits, according to state records.

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Micromanipulator President/Chief Executive Officer Kenneth Hollman said it’s difficult to get qualified, dependable manufacturing or technical workers from the unemployment pool. The way the market is now, the most capable people are employed.

“In every society there are those who are not able to work, either because of a health problem, age, or that there is some part of their life that prevents them from having a job,” he said. “There are those who can’t work and those who won’t work.”

It’s an employee market. An employee with a broad range of skill sets can choose the best job that fits him or her. Industry will compete for that employee.

Micromanipulator, which makes probing equipment for the semi-conductor industry, is celebrating its 50th year in business. Twenty-seven of those years have been in Carson City, after moving from Escondido, Calif. It employs about 64 people.

Its requirements for a customer-service technician: five years experience in mechanics or electronics; willingness to travel 50 percent of the time, often overseas. A degree is not required. Pay is depending on experience, ranging from $12-$16 an hour.

“What I’ve found is the labor pool in Carson City and Carson Valley overall hasn’t been that strong in the technical field,” said Bob Hutton, Micromanipulator customer service supervisor.

The company has searched for qualified labor through Internet ads, local and out-of-state newspapers. Still, these positions, and many others at local manufacturing and technical companies, are vacant.

Hollman said Northern Nevada has done a good job in attracting business to the area, but not as good of a job in attracting qualified workers to work for those companies.

The state has put a great deal of effort into recruiting business to Nevada. This year, five economic development organizations pooled $550,000 into the California marketing campaign, designed to woo business to Nevada’s less tax-heavy environment. Qualified workers come, but they are already tied down to a company.

“A lot of companies are bringing their employees with them,” said Julie Ardito, Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada director of public relations.

Hollman, who has worked at Micromanipulator for 26 years, said that puts the manufacturing sector in the position of having to compete for the same people, something he doesn’t like to do. He said this pits manufacturers against manufacturers. Instead of increasing business and strengthening the economic base in Carson City, they are competing against each other for qualified employees.

Attracting outside workers is also difficult because Carson City has a hard time competing with technical centers such as Austin, Texas, or San Diego, Calif.

Another option: a home-grown work force.

“A large percentage (of high school graduates) is going to enter the work force and the school system should make available classes for them to go into trades such as manufacturing,” Hollman said. “If that were to occur we would have more high school graduates coming out who are suited to work in industry of some kind.”

Carson High School has many classes for vocational training – such as construction, welding, culinary arts and videography.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at or 881-1212.