URBANA – Over the next decade American manufacturers will have 3.5 million positions to fill. And 2 million of these jobs could remain unfilled.
That’s according to a 2015 Deloitte and Manufacturing Institute report on a situation referred to by manufacturers – locally and across the country – as “the skills gap.” That is, a shortage of people with the training and skills required in today’s technically advanced manufacturing environment.
About 65 people – manufacturers, educators and government representatives from Champaign, Logan, Madison and Union counties – gathered Jan. 15 at Honeywell Aerospace in Urbana to focus on closing the skills gap.
The meeting was the second quarterly Business Workforce Impact Breakfast, coordinated by the four counties’ economic development agencies, including the Champaign Economic Partnership.
The initial meeting in October, at Tolles Career and Technical Center in Plain City, focused on programs that area technical schools and colleges offer and are developing to better prepare current and future employees for skilled manufacturing jobs.
At the Jan. 15 meeting at Honeywell, representatives of four area manufacturing companies shared what they are doing to attract and retain qualified employees:
Tom Duggan, integrated supply chain senior director and site leader of Honeywell Aerospace in Urbana
Scot McLemore, technical workforce development manager for Honda North America
Jim Christel, head technical recruiter for Stanley Electric in London
Chris Millice, vice president of KTH Parts Industries in St. Paris
Marcia Bailey, director of the Champaign Economic Partnership, explains, “Preparing our local workforce for skilled, technical jobs is a key to strengthening and growing our local economy. To succeed and grow their businesses, existing companies need well-trained employees. And companies building a new facility locate where the workforce is plentiful and well-trained.”
Why a skills gap?
The skills gap resulted from multiple factors:
An aging workforce
A lack of skilled candidates to replace retirees and fill new jobs
A decline of technical education programs in public schools and a shortage of workers with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) skills
A negative and outdated image of manufacturing among students and their parents – so they don’t consider manufacturing as a career option and don’t get the necessary training
Addressing the manufacturers at the Honeywell meeting, Duggan said, “We need to insert ourselves early in the process of education to introduce students and parents to the exciting careers in manufacturing.” Many students and parents have an outdated perception of manufacturing, he said. They’re unaware of the technical sophistication of today’s manufacturing processes and the personally and financially rewarding opportunities available in industry.
Through efforts such as the Champaign County Manufacturers Council, industry and schools are collaborating to change perceptions and prepare students for manufacturing careers.
Speakers mentioned a variety of educational programs already launched. For instance:
Manufacturing studies offered by Ohio Hi-Point Career Center at Triad Local Schools for middle and high school students
The EPIC program of Honda North America, an Ohio-based workforce development initiative that ranges from middle and high school students to community college students and current Honda associates
The Marysville STEM school
Internships and work/study programs at manufacturing facilities
Plant tours and career days for students
The Inventors Workshop at the Champaign Family YMCA
Mobile labs that travel school to school, equipped with state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment to provide students hands-on exposure to manufacturing careers
Bailey said that Business Workforce Impact Breakfast invitees are being surveyed to determine topics and hosts for upcoming meetings.
Submitted on behalf of the Champaign Economic Partnership.