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McHenry County facing manufacturing skills gap

The McHenry County Workforce Network is working to address a surprising issue in a down economy: Area manufacturers unable to find qualified workers.

With recent local cuts and closings in the manufacturing world, the county has no shortage of former factory employees. But the issue is with a gap in skills that, left unaddressed, will get only worse as the most skilled laborers at manufacturing plants age, McHenry County Workforce Network Director Julie Courtney said.

To address the issue, the network has been granted about $350,000 to help train prospective manufacturing employees by the summer of 2015. In all, DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, Will and McHenry counties were granted $2 million toward the effort.

In McHenry County, manufacturers are especially looking for welders, CNC operators, industrial machinery mechanics and robotic technicians, Courtney said.

The local manufacturing industry has been pushing in recent years to drive young people to the profession as a generation of manufacturing employees that in most cases started young and learned on the job begins to contemplate retirement.

"I don't think they probably had as much [formal training]," Courtney said.

Through the grant – federal money provided through the U.S. Department of Labor and distributed by the state's Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity – individuals who qualify can attend the accelerated training for free. Programs typically last about a year.

The network is working with local manufacturers to place graduates in jobs right out of the program.

The network is hosting an informational meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday. To register, individuals can call 815-338-7100, ext 207.

So far, Courtney said, the program has been receiving a lot of interest. It's open to anyone with an eighth-grade math and reading level, and Courtney added that it helps to have an aptitude for mechanical work.

Several former employees of DB Hess, the Woodstock plant that recently closed, have come forward in hopes of bolstering their credentials, she said.

"A lot of people who have some machining skills are looking at it to increase their knowledge so they can be more marketable," she said.

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