On June 16, 2017, JCDC met at Magnum Steel Works along with 14 manufacturing and freight & logistics leaders to discuss current economic development activities and focus on workforce development in particular. Present at the meeting were representatives from; Continental Tire the Americas LLC, Walgreens Distribution, Phoenix Modular Elevator, Mt. Vernon Neon Sign, Magnum Steel Works, Illinois Department of Commerce, Mt. Vernon Township High School, Rend Lake College, and ManTraCon Workforce Development. Key findings were as follows:
- Shortages exist in concrete, roofing, plumbing and electrical labor, as well as construction management.
- There has been a shortage of teachers for the past three years, with about a 60% decrease over that period, partly as a result of the expected retirement age rising from 55 to 67. The salaries locally start at about $32-35,000/year, which does not compete well with other job opportunities.
- In freight and logistics, filling general warehouse positions has not been a problem, while entry-level supervisors and tech positions have been a challenge. Walgreens mentioned they have 13 openings currently. Rend Lake College was praised for its Industrial Electronics & Maintenance program but there is employer demand for more enrollment and many more graduates. These jobs can start in the $40,000 range.
- The Area Vocational Center is very important; sheet metal and electrician work often go hand-in-hand. Currently, many area high schools no longer offer building trades programs anymore. Working on home construction for two years in high school provided worthwhile experience for past students. Another demand is for CAD training in high school, preferably in AutoDesk and SolidWorks. Without instructors for these two areas, Jefferson County will be dependent on trying to recruit from outside.
- Many school kids are unaware of the local opportunities available to them. The introduction of manufacturing career path options could be shared around 8th grade. Currently, the impression is that the younger generation is taught that the factory setting is where kids who failed in school go. A unifying message is needed between parents, education and industry. It is hard for our area to compete with the Metro East and other large suburban areas in terms of Quality of Life. This makes it hard to recruit from outside the area.
The group also discussed plans for an October Manufacturing Day event, with a July 10 date set for the first meeting. This will be a great way to share manufacturing and distribution as career paths, not just low level jobs. Plans are for plant tours for students, parents, and other interested parties, along with a luncheon.
The next Industry Leader Roundtable meeting is tentatively scheduled for September 25.