IMEC is a resource available to help manufacturers answer questions.
Recognizing that manufacturers generally don’t like to ask for help, Schwartz said IMEC has been an incredible partner, helping Trim-Tex access a variety of resources. For example, IMEC conducted an employee engagement survey to cultivate an open and positive work environment. A workforce training program was then developed to focus on educating managers to effectively supervise and lead their teams. Employees participate in skill training to free managers from certain tasks. “We learned what we don’t know and what we need to know,” Schwartz said.
Sharing and learning from each other’s experiences is what makes a partnership IMEC so valuable Another top priority in manufacturing is attracting and retaining workers, which also makes a partnership with IMEC even more powerful.
The future success of manufacturing in Illinois depends on manufacturers building strong partnerships with organizations like IMEC, SomerCor, Intersect Illinois and Lake County Partners. These relationships seek the economic well-being of individual manufacturers and the state as a whole.
“In manufacturing, spending must be planned and disciplined.”
– Bryan Schwartz, President of Trim-Tex
Experts also say there is a need for skilled labor and that partnership is one way manufacturers can succeed in this challenge.
“Labor demand is an issue,” said Manny Flores, president and CEO of SomerCor, a nonprofit small business lender. It specializes in SBA 504 loans for owner-occupied commercial real estate and fixed equipment. Other states compete with Illinois for manufacturers; A skilled workforce is needed to keep manufacturing companies in Illinois, Flores said.
An investment in technology can help attract and retain young workers, an issue employers struggle with today. Tech-savvy millennials and members of Gen Z expect to work in technology-enabled environments.
At the same time, technology can help create manufacturing jobs that are more interesting and pay better than traditional factory work. “Automation doesn’t kill jobs, it creates better jobs,” said Kevin Considine, president and CEO of Lake County Partners, an economic development organization.
“Manufacturing careers are more exciting than ever,” Sainati noted, describing his shop’s machine operators with million-dollar parts of computerized CNC equipment. “It’s exciting.”
A workforce for the future
Technology can also be used to design career paths for workers. This approach helps position manufacturing as a profession to build a strong workforce and keep companies in Illinois, industry leaders agree.
Sainati’s company does not use industrial recruiters, but hires entry-level workers who receive on-the-job training. Employees can progress from machinist to programmer and eventually to a management position. “It always comes back to the people,” Sainati said. “We can be patient in developing our team.”
Manufacturing and economic development executives are helping change the stereotypical image of manufacturing to attract young workers. The manufacturing workforce in Illinois had been shrinking, but is growing again. “We see more and more young adults choosing manufacturing careers,” said Considine of Lake County Partners. The organization, which attracts and supports businesses in Lake County, IL, conducts manufacturer bus tours for high school counselors. The program has had an impact in showcasing career opportunities in the manufacturing sector.
Another program takes high school students to tour manufacturing facilities. The STEM classes now common in schools are teaching students the skills they need to succeed in today’s manufacturing environment. “We need to connect with the education systems,” Flores told SomerCor. “School districts need to be part of the discussion.”
“We are a connector. This is our job”.
– Kevin Considine, President/CEO of Lake County Partners
While old-fashioned shop classes may be out of style, many high schools now have makerspaces. These laboratories are equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters and other state-of-the-art tools. “The education system has already changed,” said Ashley Moy, CEO of Cast21. The company makes orthopedic casts that use an open lattice mesh filled with quick-drying resin.
Moy said industry needs to connect with school programs. Cast21 is “pinched for people,” he said. The company even had to use a recruiter to find a high school intern. They also found a grant that helped open the door to partnerships with educational providers. The company also rebranded, emphasizing the purpose of their work, something important to young workers.
Manufacturing leaders emphasize the importance of networking and forming partnerships with the workforce development ecosystem. “We are a connector,” Considine told Lake County Partners. “This is our job”.
Community colleges are working closely with area manufacturers. The College of Lake County recently opened an advanced technology center to train workers. The innovative new program is located in a former Lowe’s store in Gurnee that was completely renovated. The first students arrived this fall.
Looking ahead, executives expressed some concerns about the broader economic outlook. “It’s a little cloudy,” Schwartz said. But they also pointed to the many advantages Illinois offers from natural resources like Lake Michigan to some of the best universities in the world and a deep talent pool of workers.
Boulay highlighted the importance of manufacturing for the future of the state and the key role that opinion leaders are playing in creating a collective vision for the sector in the coming years. “While it can be challenging to think ahead, it is an essential foundation for shaping sound strategies and investments,” he said.
Grant program available to suburban manufacturers in Cook County:
The Cook County Reinvented Manufacturing Grants Program has more than 300 grants available to support suburban Cook County manufacturers as they continue to recover and reinvent themselves. Project bids are based on survey responses from more than 1,000 local manufacturers who have identified their top priorities and challenges stemming from the pandemic.
For more information about the program or to apply, visit: www.imec.org/ccmr