Industries plead for more labor

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran speaks in front of a Gleaner combine produced at the AGCO Plant in Hesston.

By Adam Strunk

We need help to get more employees.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran heard that request at a tour of the AGCO company in Hesston on Monday.

He said he heard that earlier during a tour of the Fullvision Company in Newton. He said he hears that request just about everywhere he goes.

“COVID did something to us, and people became less interested in going back to work,” he said. “You all need to go home and have more kids,” he added, jokingly.

Kansas now has the lowest unemployment rate since the state tracked the statistic at 2.3 percent, the sixth-lowest in the United States. Harvey County’s most recent numbers were even lower at 2 percent.

U.S. Senator Jerry Moran holds a help wanted sign in an effort to generate some publicity for AGCO and help it fill around 85 open positions. Moran toured Harvey County on Monday and heard from companies about labor shortages and other issues.

For AGCO, the tight market means there are about 85 positions at the county’s largest employer available across the board.

The plant as a whole employs roughly 1,200 people with around 800 involved in the production of farm equipment, such as swathers, combines and bailers.

“There are pockets across the site where we struggle with labor,” Director of Operations Jessica Stone said. “We’re using temp. labor now where we’d like to use full-time labor. We have openings in every position.”

Stone said labor was one of the main challenges the plant faced, as well as parts availability from vendors and supply chain issues.

Labor is short at the plant as it continues to take steps to make the production operation more efficient.

The plant recently installed what look like two large, white towers inside a location called “the supermarket.”

The supermarket at the facility features parts from outside vendors. Where those parts were once on shelves that staff had to go back and forth to find, now they put a part number into one of the towers. Shortly after, the automated tower provides a part.

“Individuals used to walk aisles; now the parts come to them,” Stone said.

Other parts of the plant are also automated, including aspects of the painting of parts.

Large automated guidance vehicles can carry parts across the plant in certain orders so they can be painted, for instance.

Moran toured the facility, asked questions and provided his take on how to help with the need for labor.

He said the country needed immigration reform to help bring skilled workers to jobs that needed them. He said that there’s little appetite in Congress for such reform but did lay out what he’d like to see changed in existing immigration policy.

“We generally have quotas [of people] per country,” he said. “If we’re going to have quotas, we ought to have ones to make sure those skilled people are prioritized.”

At the end of the tour, he asked the staff of AGCO what they wanted him to accomplish or how he could help them.

He was told that pushing for Right to Repair protections that allowed farmers to be able to do their own work on equipment was important.

He was also told that focusing on trade education was important.

Moran said encouraging students to go to local trade and technical education schools instead of leaving their communities made it more likely for those students to then stay in their community.

He noted that earmarks had returned to Congress. He admitted that the practice where legislators put aside federal funding for projects with the state had been controversial. He said, however, his office has focused on using such earmarks to encourage people in Kansas to enter trade jobs.

“We’re focused on community technical colleges with trade education,” he said.

As he left, he took a picture with a help wanted sign for AGCO. The tour was part of a visit from Moran to Harvey County on Monday. He visited Full Vision in Newton, AGCO in Hesston and also spoke at the Newton Kiwanis Club.

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