Long Island’s Demand for Skilled Workers Continues in 2020

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By almost any measure, CPI Aerostructures Inc., an airplane-parts manufacturer in Brentwood, is a healthy company. 

For the full year 2017, sales were a solid $81.3 million and the company earned $5.8 million, up from $3.6 million the year prior. In mid-October, CPI announced a new $48 million contract from Boeing to build parts for the Air Force’s A-10 combat plane.

So why are CPI executives worried? They find it hard to remember a time when it was more difficult to find qualified employees. For the first time in its nearly 40-year history, CPI recently was forced to hold a job fair, yielding mediocre results.

“We are short maybe 10 to 15 people,” says Vincent Palazzolo, CPI’s chief financial officer. 

With the new Boeing contract, Palazzolo says, CPI will need another 10 to 15 more people to add to its approximately 300-member workforce. CPI is hardly unique among manufacturing companies on Long Island, who are finding the job market now belongs to job seekers. The 2020 outlook for such employers, Palazzolo said, is gloomy.

“I don’t see much changing in the next 18 months,” he says.

Most employment experts agree.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” says Aron Zweback, owner and strategic partner at Pride Staff in Melville. “I’ve never seen it this tight. “So, if you’re good, there’s three or four quality jobs out there for you.”

The tight market is hardly limited to aerospace or manufacturing.

“At every level, from CEO to the loading dock, there’s a huge demand for labor,” Zweback says.

According to labor market experts, the reasons are manifold: LI’s unemployment rate is at historic lows, of about 3.9 percent; many parents of high-school-aged children have not forgotten the trauma they felt at the catastrophic job losses in the manufacturing industry in the 1980s and ’90s, and are reluctant to encourage their kids to train for such jobs; colleges and universities tend to promote high-tech computer and software courses, not classes in mechanical work.

And, another key factor, says Kirk Kordeleski, former president and CEO of Bethpage Federal Credit Union and an ex-chairman of the Long Island Association: The Island and much of the country are undergoing a sea change in the jobs field.

“We’re in the ‘gig’ economy,” Kordeleski says.

Many young people have found that two or even three part-time jobs, or projects, are a better fit for them than full-time employment with one company. Kordeleski himself had one basic job during his business career. Now, he has three consulting positions, a change in lifestyle he has come to appreciate.

“We certainly have a lot of companies complaining about the lack of employees to fill positions,” says Shital Patel, principal economist and labor market analyst for the New York State Labor Department in Hicksville.

Of course, a lot depends on the industry. The state Labor Department’s 10-year projection forecasts plenty of job opportunities in industries such as healthcare, business and financial services, advertising and marketing, at on-line retailing companies, and in technology. But for those with degrees in the humanities, positions in higher education, for example, will continue to be difficult to find in 2020.

Dory Agazarian of Glen Head, who holds a doctorate in Modern European History, has found this out the hard way. Sitting in a Starbucks with her laptop open to a jobs site, Agazarian says she has been looking for months without much luck. According to data compiled by the American Historical Association, there were only 57 openings nationwide in 2018 for full-time college-level European History teachers.

“The situation is dire, as far as these kind of jobs go,” says Agazarian, who is “approaching middle age,” and describes herself as angry. “I’m a very good teacher and a scholar. But I do not feel optimistic about getting an academic job.”

But Odette Peralta, 23, of Wantagh, says she got two jobs almost immediately after graduating Molloy College last year. She worked a few months for a small Long Island marketing and public relations firm, and recently switched to the Rockville Centre School District, where she is a digital marketing specialist.

“I was always optimistic about getting a job,” says Peralta, who studied new media. 

The difficulty in finding qualified workers is forcing many in the manufacturing sector to offer flexible work schedules, bonuses, and other incentives, says Anne Shybunko-Moore, chief executive officer of GSE Dynamics Inc., a defense contractor in Hauppauge.

“I have six or seven jobs that need to be filled now,” says Shybunko-Moore, whose company employees about 75 people. She is among those who believe the perception of manufacturing jobs needs to change.

“There continues to be a disconnect with the way Long Island looks at manufacturing jobs,” she says. “There’s a perception they are low-level, low-skilled jobs. A lot of people don’t understand these are high-skilled positions.”

Agazarian may join the gig economy, she says. “Maybe I should tutor and give music lessons. I’m a classically trained singer.”