Chicago’s “Hottest Job Sector:” Manufacturing

FABTECH 2013 is coming to Chicago November 18-21 and we couldn’t think of a better place to hold the premier event for metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing than the Windy City.  Chicago is a hub for America’s manufacturing renaissance and a recent news article highlights some of the challenges and opportunities for manufacturers in Chi-town.

Manufacturers in Chicago have recently been experiencing a  dilemma all too familiar: they can’t hire enough workers to meet their production demands.

Chicago Grid’s Meg Graham reported last week that despite the impressive increase in manufacturing jobs in the Chicago region, manufacturers simply cannot fill their job openings.

According to a study by the UIC Center for Urban Economic Development, “manufacturing jobs in the Chicago region are multiplying quicker than elsewhere in the country.” But, even with the 5 percent increase over the past two years, an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 manufacturing jobs in the Chicago area remain unfilled.

Attendees at FABTECH 2012 in Las Vegas know well that the the skills gap in manufacturing was a hot topic at the show.  In fact, it dominated the discussion at our CEO Panel.  Readers of this blog know we’ve covered this phenomenon for the past year. 

So why the disparity between new jobs and available workers?

Manufacturing leaders in Chicago cite common misunderstandings as the greatest deterrent to potential workers. “The perception is you’re going to be in hard labor, eight to 10 hours a day,” Manny Rodriguez, vice president of The Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing, said. But, he continued, “it’s just not like that anymore…It’s just not the type of manufacturing that your father or grandfather worked in.”

Instead, small manufacturers like Chicago-based Quality Float Works are offering a direct path from the ground level to the top, with no prior experience required. The work is specialized, with less manual labor and more computer operation, but manufacturers are offering on-the-job training to help inexperienced workers adjust.

Not only do the opportunities for growth make manufacturing “a viable option for a career,” but five or six years out of high school, a machinist can be “making near $100,000 a year,” according to Pam McDonough, CEO of The Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing. That number is not an exception, either: Chicago manufacturing jobs in the metropolitan area paid an average of $67,168 in 2011.

The question remains whether on-the-job training and minimal experience requirements will be enough to shrink the skilled worker shortage in Chicago. While Chicago business leaders agree that in today’s economy, “manufacturing positions should be considered before earning an expensive degree,” they also acknowledge that the lack of interest comes from manufacturing’s “inability to shake off an outdated reputation.”

For more about the skilled worker shortage, read our previous blogs here and here.

What do you think? How can domestic manufacturers attract enough skilled workers to keep up with production demands? Leave a comment below with your suggestions.

To see the full article by Meg Graham in Chicago Grid, click here.

If you want to see first hand the innovation that drives U.S. manufacturing, plan to attend FABTECH on November 18-21 in Chicago.  Visit  www.fabtechexpo.com for more information.

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