(The Center Square) – Employers in Illinois’ manufacturing industry are looking for a few good men or women to join the workforce.
October is Manufacturing Month and Sarah Hartwick, Vice President of Education and Workforce Policy with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, says it’s not just a celebration of a key driver of the state’s economy.
“It’s also a time to take stock of the challenges that are facing the manufacturing industry and to get creative about the ways that we can solve those challenges,” Hartwick said. “For manufacturers specifically, we hear time and time again the biggest challenge right now is finding qualified workers.”
According to the IMA, there are currently 800,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs in the country due to a lack of qualified workers. The exact numbers in Illinois are unclear, but officials say there are certainly more openings than applicants.
“Manufacturing is not dark and dirty and dangerous, which is what many in the past have envisioned,” Hartwick said. “It’s high-tech. It increasingly requires technical skills that we can and should be teaching early in a student’s career.”
Hartwick even if specific technical skills or “soft” skills aren’t present in applicants, that should not be seen as a roadblock to employment.
“Manufacturers are so in need of people, they’re willing to provide a lot of the on-the-job training and work with community colleges for credentialing, so that these individuals can actually earn some credits and maybe even an Associate’s Degree while learning to do the job,” Hartwick said.
Part of IMA’s Manufacturing Month itinerary includes trips to regions across Illinois in an attempt to bringing together local manufacturers, businesses, economic development organizations, and educational institutions.
“We really want to build excitement for that new generation about careers in manufacturing,” Hartwick said. “For decades, the focus has been on encouraging students to pursue a four-year college degree. While that’s absolutely the right path for some, it’s not a good fit for others. Manufacturing can fill that gap. They can offer high-paying jobs with good benefits in a really exciting career field.”
She says exposing kids in elementary and high schools to career possibilities in manufacturing will make a significant difference in the future.
“Members are connecting, making more touch points with their local school districts,” Hartwick said. “K-12 career exploration, early on, is so important. Exposing kids in elementary school to the exciting careers in manufacturing will make a significant difference.”
According to the IMA, the manufacturing sector currently supports more than 550,000 jobs across the state with an average annual salary of $88,000.