Cooper Tire's Charles Yurkovich laid it on the line in his keynote speech at the recent ACS Rubber Division meeting: It's getting increasingly difficult to find qualified technical people.
Retired ExxonMobil Chemical Co. scientist Ed Kresge, this year's Charles Goodyear Medalist, gave his take on how to solve that problem: Pay them more.
Therein lies the problem and a solution.
The rubber industry, as Cooper R&D chief Yurkovich pointed out, is not a glamorous business when compared to others. A basic manufacturing industry in retrenchment in the developed world for a number of years—particularly the tire sector—rubber lacks the pizzazz of, say, pharmaceuticals, aerospace or even the auto industry. Talented college graduates gravitate toward those areas, while high school students who might be possibilities seem caught in the CSI Effect: They all want to be forensic scientists.
Cooper is no different than any other global tire manufacturer. Yurkovich indicated the company looks to fill research and development posts at tech centers in Australia, Europe and Asia—not just at Findlay, Ohio.
Ultimately, many technical slots that aren't filled by tire and rubber manufacturers in the U.S. can be expected to follow the production migration overseas. This is not a scenario American rubber industry leaders prefer.
Companies and trade and technical associations in the industry are supportive of efforts to bring more young people into the field. They sponsor scholarships, help support specialized colleges like Ferris State's rubber program, provide funding for collaborative efforts between the industry and academia. Is it enough?
Kresge doesn't think so. He has no ax to grind on the subject after a highly successful career at ExxonMobil, lucrative enough that he could retire at 58 and pursue other scientific and educational interests. But he wasn't just a lab rat—Kresge was instrumental in launching thermoplastic elastomer giant Advanced Elastomer Systems, so he knows the business as well as the scientific sides of the field.
And he's right. If the industry really wants to lure more good candidates for technical posts, it needs to consider these people potential all-stars, and out pay competing industries. All-stars want to get paid, or they'll sign with another team.