South central Kentucky is expected to have 22,000 open jobs in the next five years. That’s going to intensify the current shortage of workers in the state - an issue that’s facing the entire country.
One Warren County company saw refugees arriving at the International Center in Bowling Green as the way to get ahead of the competition for quality employees.
At Trace Die Cast in Warren County, the machines are humming. The company manufactures aluminum castings for the automotive industry, mainly engine and transmission components.
Quality control team leader Mohammad Jawid is inspecting some of the parts.
"Gauging. We have to gauge every single part to make sure nothing is bent, it means the part’s no good."
Twenty-nine-year-old Jawid is from Afghanistan and got a Special Immigrant Visa because he worked as a translator for the U.S. Armed Forces.
"I speak Persian, Pashto, Farsi, Urdu and English," said Jawid.
That gives him the ability to translate for employees from many countries, including Afghanistan, Iran, India and Pakistan. One of those employees is Naveed Kashif, a die cast machine operator from Pakistan who speaks Urdu.
"Bowling Green is a very economic place to stay. You can afford to pay for everything and good job opportunities," said Jawid, translating for Kashif.
The opportunities for immigrants are also opportunities for businesses. Trace Die Cast President Chris Guthrie said the company decided about 15 years ago to look to the great businesses of America as a model.
"The General Motors and the Fords and the GEs, you know they brought in immigrants and they had great internal programs to train and to also do apprenticeship programs. So we started doing the same thing and really worked with the local refugee center to incorporate new immigrants from Africa, they were from the Middle East, they were from South America and Central America."
Guthrie says training immigrants is an obvious way to confront the national shortage of workers.
"In the last two years, as it’s become really challenging to find people to do industrial work, we’ve really added more programs to that."
A recent report by the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce shows there are 6,400 vacant jobs in 10 counties of south central Kentucky. U.S. Department of Labor data shows there are more than six million vacant positions nationwide.
Guthrie says Trace Die Cast created programs to deal with issues like safety and efficiency that can arise because of language barriers.
"So we said, hey let’s start internal programs to meet the challenges of the modern workforce, especially here in Bowling Green. So we started hiring people who were bilingual or even can speak four or five languages, and they can really do a lot of internal training, as well as supplement that with digital pictures."
Another employee who speaks several languages is 22-year-old Ahmed Ibrahim .
"Well, I speak Somali, Arabic, English and Swahili."
Ibrahim says he translates for employees several times every day.
"I have to sit down with them and explain all the equipment, all the supplies they need. I have to break it down for them so that they can understand every word."
Ibrahim translates for 20-year-old Matisho Mateso, who’s from Tanzania and speaks Swahili.
"She said that the only thing is that they understand each other when they use their hands and signs, sometimes broken English, that’s they show each other how to work."
Guthrie says it’s helpful if workers in the automotive industry have basic math skills, but there’s one quality that’s even more essential.
"Just a desire to do great work. We’re looking more at attitude as much as anything."
Guthrie says the company has 520 employees. About 60 percent of them, or more than 300 employees at Trace Die Cast, are immigrants.