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What it takes to land a manufacturing job today

An Amazon distribution in the Inland Empire is the type of facility that needs workers who can fix high-end equipment.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC
An Amazon distribution in the Inland Empire is the type of facility that needs workers who can fix high-end equipment.

In Southern California, manufacturing work is becoming increasingly specialized, and industry leaders say job seekers often lack technical skills to land a job.

A new training center in Fontana promises to fill that skills gap by offering free training to hundreds of locals who want to work in the area's burgeoning logistics sector, or in one of the manufacturing warehouses that are still hopping in the region. The program was funded by a $15 million federal grant.

Manufacturing was once the lifeblood of the local economy, but San Bernardino's manufacturing base has declined in recent decades along with the rest of Southern California's. About 90,000 manufacturing and construction jobs were lost there during the recession, and many of those jobs haven’t come back, according to a UCLA Anderson study. Even as state employment continues to rebound, the numbers in manufacturing have not been nearly as strong. 

Even so, the Los Angeles metropolitan area is doing much better than other parts of the country. The region leads the nation in manufacturing jobs. Computers and electronics and chemicals are the most commonly-produced things in California, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

“Manufacturing has not gone away," said Ann Marie Allen, who is coordinating the grant. "It is still here and thriving, but it has changed. It requires individuals who are trained in higher tech and higher skilled jobs.”

For example, Allen says many employers are looking for applicants who can fix complicated equipment in factories. The necessary training can only take a few months, but there are not nearly enough qualified applicants to fill these positions.

“So we are training in everything from basic tooling and electrical skills, machining, and HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] skills, to providing the hands on experience that our employers are looking for,” said Allen. 

Many of the area's increasing number of distribution warehouses need employees with the same skills, and positions typically pay $14 to $18 an hour, said Allen.

 There are 4,350 advanced manufacturing businesses within San Bernardino and Riverside Counties, according to a 2014 Inland Empire Center of Excellence (COE) report. It also identified 45 positions in manufacturing that are projected to produce over 2,000 manufacturing jobs a year.