Cashman: Manpower shortage in manufacturing

Four hundred area high school students have signed on to attend the International Manufacturing Technology Show at McCormick Place in Chicago.

The trip, during the week of Sept. 10-15, is being hosted by the McHenry County Economic Development Corp.

According to the MCEDC, more than 25 percent of McHenry County’s economic wealth is created by the manufacturing community.

“Not only is this vital sector of our economy experiencing difficulty hiring skilled workers today, but statistics show that our current skilled workforce will be retiring in the near future,” said MCEDC President Pam Cumpata.

The lack of qualified people to fill available manufacturing jobs is a common complaint in McHenry County.

“Our challenges are finding talent locally to take on these high-tech trade jobs,” McHenry-based Fabrik Molded Plastics President Keith Wagner told business reporter Shawn Shinneman last week. “And we’re willing to do internships and apprenticeships to get people.”

“We need candidates for the manufacturing side to have basic math and computer skills as all the equipment is operated by computers,” wrote Steve Brown, president and general manager of NonWoven Solutions in Ingleside, in a recent email to the newspaper. “The most frustrating thing is this: So many people out of work and supposedly looking for employment. And yet, where are they when we have positions to fill?”

To stimulate interest in manufacturing career opportunities, MCEDC connected with McHenry County high school superintendents to facilitate the field trip to the IMTS

The response far exceeded expectations. “We were thinking maybe 150 students,” Cumpata said. “The superintendents said ‘you’re going to need more buses.’”

Attending are not only students interested in vocational training, but college-bound students planning to pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Cumpata said she hopes the trip helps bridge the gap between education and industry so that students are given the skills they need to pursue well-paying, technical careers.

On the bus ride to Chicago, the students will view a video showcasing manufacturing in McHenry County and opportunities that exist today and into the future.

Cumpata said a highlight at the technology show will be the NIMS Student Skills Center, which provides a glimpse of cutting-edge technology and reinforces a nationwide increase of STEM education at the secondary and post-secondary level.

McHenry County manufacturers also are participating through sponsorships and employees attending the show with the students. Companies also are organizing tours for students of their manufacturing facilities after the show. 

“This conversation has been ongoing for a number of years, we are hoping this can be the catalyst to collaborate on career opportunities,” Cumpata said.

Expect the issue of manufacturing job readiness to carry on to the MCEDC’s Annual Dinner on Oct. 11. Rick Stephens, senior vice president of human resources for The Boeing Corp., will be the keynote speaker. Cumpata said she expects Stephens to spend significant time speaking on the future of manufacturing in the U.S. as well as the workforce needed to remain innovative and competitive.  


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