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Manufacturing has its day in McHenry County

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SPRING GROVE – Manufacturers facing a shortage of skilled workers want students – and their parents – to take another look at careers in the industry.

More than 150 manufacturing companies opened their doors last week to students and teachers as part of a coordinated national push to attract new workers and dispel misconceptions about manufacturing careers.

Scot Forge, which makes metal parts for everything from airplanes to submarines, has invited local students and teachers to see the company's Spring Grove facility as part of the effort.

The company has hired about 60 employees for its Spring Grove operation in the last year and a half, but still uses overtime to meet production schedules, said plant manager Craig Weidner.

"Parents think there is not a lot of opportunity or that there isn't room for advancement in a manufacturing job, but it's quite the contrary," he said.

Manufacturing jobs make up 13 percent of the county’s workforce, according to the McHenry County Workforce Investment Board. But as the current generation of workers grows older and retires, fewer young people are ready to take their jobs.

"Right now it's extremely tough to find good machinists and good welders," Weidner said. "Those types of professions are in high demand."

Weidner said events such as last Friday's Manufacturing Day will help raise awareness, but more needs to be done to close the skills gap between older workers and younger workers.

Without enough skilled younger workers, about 600,000 manufacturing jobs went unfilled last year even as the national unemployment rate hovered around 9 percent, according to a 2011 survey by Deloitte Development and the Manufacturing Institute.

"We need to do more to recognize the skill it takes to be in manufacturing and how different manufacturing is today compared to in the past," Weidner said. "There are a lot of opportunities in manufacturing for people to make a really good living."

Scot Forge is not alone.

Other local companies such as Sage Products in Cary and Watlow Electric Manufacturing Co. in Richmond are investing in training programs to make sure they have the skilled workers they need.

McHenry County College has developed training programs to help meet the demand. And the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. has been working to raise the profile of manufacturing through Manufacturing Day and other events.

Last month, more than 800 students from McHenry County high schools attended the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago as part of the organization's ongoing efforts, said MCEDC President Pam Cumpata.

Manufacturing Day is another opportunity to introduce future workers to the industry, Cumpata said.

"Any time we can do that, it's a win," she said.

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