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Cashman: Making youngsters 'job ready'

Boeing Co. executive Rick Stephens said schools and parents need to do a better job preparing youngsters for the workforce.

Stephens was the keynote speaker at Thursday's McHenry County Economic Development Corp.'s Annual Dinner in Crystal Lake.

Stephens is senior vice president, human resources and administration for The Boeing Co. and a member of the Boeing Executive Council. The 32-year Boeing veteran oversees all leadership development, training, employee relations, corporate citizenship and diversity initiatives.

Stephens said last year, Boeing hired 18,000 workers. The company expects to hire 15,000 this year, and 12,000 in each of the next two years. The company expects to process 2.5 million job applications this year.

He said there's an age demographics crisis, with employees in industries across the country in their 50s and early 60s ready to retire. About 18,000 Boeing employees are 60 and older.

"We need to get a broader perspective about what's going on in the workforce," Stephens said.

"Youngsters are disengaged," he said. "People are coming into the workforce who need to start from scratch. Youngsters aren't engaged enough in the real world."

Boeing spends 3.5 million hours training its own employees, and spends $100 million to send its employees back to school.

"It's what we need to do to maintain our technical advantage."

"Not everyone needs to go to college, but everyone needs to be job ready," he said. "This has implications for the manufacturing sector."

Stephens said businesses must work with school administrators for what a job-ready curriculum should look like.

"There are 3 million jobs we can't fill in America. There are 250,000 jobs unfilled in Illinois. That's the challenge we face," Stephens said.

He said kids perceive many of those jobs as "dull jobs, old jobs."

"Let's make robotics cool," he said. "Drive their perspective of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) careers. Portray this industry as the right thing to do."

Stephens said there is much work do to in terms of education. "Education results are worse, not better." He said just as great businesses have great leaders, "Get great principals and we'll get great schools.

"It's not about the money, it's about leadership."

Stephens added that the more parents show up at school, the better kids perform.

"The biggest opportunity is what we do locally. Be engaged in that process."

Stephens praised recent field trips to the International Manufacturing and Trade Show organized by McHenry County Economic Development Corp. President Pam Cumpata. More than 800 high school students made the trip to Chicago's McCormick Place.

"When you make it real, kids get it," he said. "They begin to see the relevance about what goes on in the classroom."

Stephens serves on a number of nonprofit and business-focued boards and is passionate about improving education both inside and outside the classroom. He works directly with community and educational leaders to prepare future workers to meet the challenges of a competitive business environment.

"We're in a competitive world," he said. "They want our jobs. In a global economy we have to compete for jobs."

• Email ccashman@shawmedia.com

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