INA, Ill. (July 12, 2012) – A Manufacturing Summit held Wednesday on the Rend Lake College campus brought together leaders from industry, education and government in order to share ideas on how to build the high school students of today into the manufacturing innovators of tomorrow.
    RLC President Terry Wilkerson welcomed the group, saying the college is pleased to be at the table and ready to do its part. Those in attendance included representatives of RLC, the Illinois Workforce Investment Board, Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Man-Tra-Con, the Jefferson County Development Corporation, Franklin County Economic Development Corporation, Magnum Steel, John A. Logan College, Mount Vernon Township Highthumb RLCmanufacturingsummit2012mJames Nelson with the Illinois Manufacturers' Association speaks at the Rend Lake College Manufacturing Summit held Wednesday on the Ina campus. The event was held to get educators and employers together to share ideas about solving a labor shortage in the Illinois manufacturing industry that is expected to get worse. Seated, FROM LEFT, are Jean Ondo with Man-Tra-Con, Jill Meseke of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Tom Ashby with the Illinois Workforce Investment Board and RLC Vice President of Finance and Administration Bob Carlock. Click on the image for a larger version. School, Continental Tire the Americas, and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
    “I think it’s important we get better at matching students in the pipeline with careers that click, and pointing them to training programs where they will succeed,” said Wilkerson. “At Rend Lake College, we feel like we have a pretty good sense of the skills local industry seeks in our graduates. Because of our relationships with employers in the area, we are continuously molding their feedback into curriculum that works. Those relationships are vital to what we do.”  
    The pipeline Wilkerson refers to is the path to higher education. It begins in the K-12 school system. That pipeline is shrinking, according to James Nelson, vice president of external affairs for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association.
    In his presentation on the IMA’s Manufacturers’ Education Initiative, Nelson revealed to the group that out of every 100 ninth graders, only 18 will graduate on time, enroll directly in college, and earn an associate degree within three years or a bachelor’s degree within six years. Less than 70 will graduate from high school on time. Combine that with a workforce of baby boomers – most of whom hit the age of retirement last year – and companies reporting moderate to serious skills shortages in the hiring pool; and the Illinois manufacturing industry is witnessing a serious shortage of qualified workers that could get worse if something isn’t done. Programs are in place now, such as Illinois’ P-20 Council that is aimed at improving statewide education from birth to adulthood. It’s goal is “60% by 2025.”
    “We have a problem now,” said Nelson. “We cannot wait until 2025.”
    His presentation noted challenges faced by employers, educators and the manufacturing industry as a whole.     One challenge manufacturing faces, according to Nelson, is an image problem. More than 12 percent of the IMA Education Foundation’s 2012 budget was for outreach and marketing.
    “We still have the perception that we are dirty, dark and damp, and not dynamic,” he said. “If we can get these kids turned on [to manufacturing] we can do a lot.”
    According to the IMA, what is needed now is a direct and sustainable relationship between manufacturers and educators, as well as funding to get programs going.
    Employers are looking for workers that can pass a drug screening and who possess soft and hard skills – soft being things like dress, demeanor and dependability, and hard being the skills learned at a college like RLC.
    “A high school diploma just doesn’t work anymore,” said Nelson. “Everybody needs to have at least some community college training.”
    Nelson said concerns identified by educators include guaranteed interviews for students, professional development for faculty, meaningful internships, ongoing dialog with employers, and training equipment upgrades. Most require money. Jill Meseke said she may be able to help with that.
    Meseke is the manager of special initiatives for the DCEO’s Office of Employment and Training. She explained that a competitive grant is on the horizon that would fit well with what is happening here at the local level.
    The DCEO was awarded $12 million through the Workforce Innovation Fund – one of several new federal grant programs in which grantor agencies support projects that seek to design evidence-based program strategies. Meseke said $7 million will be used to scale up six to eight regional manufacturing partnerships in Illinois that face the largest shortages and have the strongest commitments from public and private partners to reduce these critical shortages.
     Mary Ellen Bechtel with the Jefferson County Development Corporation said the meeting’s focus on workforce was right on target with growth in the area.
    “At this time in economic development; having skills, being workforce ready and available, and coming to work has ... moved up to the top priority,” Bechtel said. “So I’m very excited about this and very thankful for Rend Lake College being here and for all of our companies working together to do what we can to have an excellent, high-quality workforce in Jefferson County and the surrounding area.”

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