The economy will be one of the main issues during the campaigning leading up to November’s elections. With the U.S. unemployment rate at 8.2 percent nationally as of May 2012 and Illinois’ unemployment rate at 8.6 percent, many believe there are no jobs available.
However, manufacturers in Chicago’s northwest suburbs have jobs ready to be filled but say there is a shortage of skilled workers. As a result, many factories are filled with machines with no one to operate them.
Harper College is tackling the issue this fall, with plans to prepare students for careers as advanced manufacturing professionals.
“There is so much ‘gloom and doom’ coming out of Washington, D.C. Hopefully, we can help with that problem,” Harper College President Kenneth Ender said.
Ender, addressing school officials, business owners and elected officers gathered Wednesday at Acme Industries, said the world has changed fundamentally, particularly in how one earns a living.
Partnering with 54 area manufacturers, the partnership would allow students in the new program to gain certification in industry-endorsed skills, which are recognized and accepted by local employers, in less than a year.
Students can earn while they learn and potentially turn their internship into a full-time position.
The opportunity doesn’t stop there: As students complete the certification in a specific manufacturing area, they will be able to pursue associate's and bachelor’s degrees.
High school students, veterans and seasoned workers would be able to come to Harper for the one-year program and take advantage of the internships with area employers, Ender explained.
“Private and public partnerships could help the state of Illinois,” said state Sen. Dan Kotowski, D-Park Ridge.
“Very excited,” the senator said of Harper’s new program. Kotowski said it’s important to develop the skills of students coming out of school.
Mike Alagna, Nation Pizza’s chief operating officer, said he told his kids they have to go to college, but that has changed. Alagna, whose company will offer internships this fall, said there are manufacturing jobs going unfilled at $50,000 to $60,000 a year with benefits.
“The program really starts in the 211 and 214” school districts, Alagna said, adding that this is a combined effort, driven by private firms.
“The opportunities are here in Illinois — 80,000 jobs remain empty,” Ender said.
Jim O’Donnell, Republican state senate candidate for District 28, spent his career as a job creator in manufacturing. “It’s easier to put machines into place than it is to find qualified people to work them,” he said.
“It’s a challenge finding workers skilled in operating machinery,” said Bob Clifford, Acme Industries’ vice president of sales.
“The Harper program is investing in the future. Hopefully it would pay off, and so we don’t have to continue hosting job fairs.”