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Butler County has high employee count

Luke Waugaman of Moniteau uses a metal lathe at Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School. Steve Cukovich/Butler Eagle

If you don’t keep up you’ll fall behind.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry Center for Workforce Information & Analysis, the health care and social assistance industry boasted the highest number of employees in Butler County at 13,856 in 2021.

This industry also holds the highest employee numbers in the state, according to last year’s statistics, with a little over a million employees.

Rhonda Bowers, an eldercare coordinator with Lutheran SeniorLife at Passavant in Zelienople, said Passavant is paired with Lenape School of Nursing and Beaver County Career and Technology Center.

This is where Bowers said Passavant hires most of its staff from, and during her interactions with the younger demographic coming into the field, there is something all of them are looking for in a registered nurse (RN) and licensed practical nurse (LPN) position.

“With regards to staffing, I see the younger population wants flexibility with their schedule and their time off and their pay,” Bowers said. “We are working on avenues to provide that for the younger generation.”

Rhonda Bowers, an eldercare coordinator with Lutheran SeniorLife at Passavant in Zelienople (Submitted)

Bowers spends most of her time making sure all the residents’ clinical needs are met while making sure there is enough staff available to accomplish that.

“I was just at a job fair, and people are interested in our LPNs that will move forward to seek out their RN,” Bowers said. “In the past year we have had about four or five of our staff members go on to get their RN. In the past, that really wasn’t something we have necessarily seen.”

“Staffing is a challenge, but we are fortunate that a lot of us here have longevity” she added. “We all pull together because we have been here so long.”

Paul Weifenbaugh, assistant director at the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board, said he is seeing a shift in the nursing industry with regard to in home patients.

Routine checkups such as blood pressure, checking sugar levels and weight for in-home patients can take a lot of time for health care workers.

Now patients are given “home health care monitoring kits” where they can take their own vitals. The data is sent back to their doctors, and they can go from there based on the information.

“You’re serving more people with better service,” Weifenbaugh said. “You’re not spending all that time traveling for basic diagnostics.”

Manufacturing

Manufacturing has been and always will remain a top employer in Butler County, with changes coming in all different directions according to Mike Wagner, chief innovation officer at Butler Technologies.

Screen printing is what got Butler Technologies off the ground and still is prevalent today, but wearable technology is something Wagner sees as a new driving force for the company.

"We see a lot of growth in that industry,“ Wagner said. ”Everything is now mobile. They want data in real time, so putting sensors and things like that in the clothing and gathering information has been at the forefront in athletic monitoring, but now medical industries are seeing some benefits to that because they can do remote doctor-to-patient interfacing."

Wagner said Butler Technologies moved into the wearable technology arena in late 2016.

“It takes a long time for those products to go from concept to production then the market,” Wagner said. “Now we are seeing that hard work pay off."

Wagner said Butler Technologies has more employees coming in than going out, but the responsibilities of its employees is changing, especially with an industry shift on the production floor.

More with less

Automation and robotics have become not just the norm at Butler Technologies, but for manufacturing overall.

Aaron Clouse, machine technology instructor at Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School said even just 20 years ago, most things were done manually, but now workers take what they know with their hands and tell a computer how to do it.

“Everybody thought the robots were going to replace the employees, and that’s just not true,” Clouse said. “It’s more high tech. We need a skilled, knowledgeable person to come in here and do this.”

Wagner confirmed that automation will not eliminate jobs but it will change how they train new employees and their overall responsibilities.

“What that does is elevate our upscale of the workers that you need, so when you train them they have the ability to make more money,” Wagner said. “It's not eliminating people, but get the chance to upscale them."

Even outside of Butler County, Weifenbaugh said automation is something manufacturers all over are moving toward.

"Automation and robotics is definitely a trend,“ Weifenbaugh said. ”It’s not necessarily to eliminate jobs. It helps with some of the mundane jobs, but it’s going to create higher-level jobs. You’re going to need people to maintain and program it.”

“I do know of a place in Indiana County that said they bought a facility and it’s mostly going to be automation,” Weifenbaugh added. “They will still need workers, but more skilled workers to run the automation.”

Clouse said that he has about 40 students in his vo-tech class and would like to see a little bit more. But with less students, he is able to provide more individualized attention.

His students have the ability to obtain 12 certifications between 10th and 12th grade, which is well beyond what the state recommends.

“Those have been a real benefit for us,” Clouse said. “We do NIMS which stands for National Institute of Metalworking Skills. If we can do four certifications, our students are considered to be advanced.”

One issue Clouse said the industry is starting to see is that the number of people leaving isn’t matched by the number of people coming into the industry.

“Here at Vo-Tech I think we are doing well in getting them prepared for manufacturing,” Clouse said. “The baby boomers leaving, which we knew was coming, is almost double or triple than what’s coming in.”

Aaron Clouse is a machine technology instructor at Butler County Area Vocational-Technical School. Steve Cukovich/Butler Eagle
Wagner-Mike Wagner is chief innovation officer at Butler Technologies. Steve Cukovich/Butler Eagle

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