The manufacturing industry needs to do a better job selling itself not only to customers, but to Millennials who could fill a growing need for skilled employees, a panel of local experts said Wednesday at the Daily Herald Business Ledger's Newsmakers Forum on Manufacturing and International Business.
About 100 local business leaders attended the event held at the Wojick Conference Center of Harper College in Palatine.
The panel members focused on the need to close the industry's gap of skilled workers that is projected to reach 2 million unfilled jobs in the next 10 years.
"It is the only thing constraining our growth," said Rich Hoster, president and COO of Smith and Richardson, a manufacturer of precision parts in Geneva.
Hoster and James Carr, president of CARR Machine and Tool in Elk Grove Village, said the issue in finding and training skilled workers still lies in a stigma that exists over the industry, as well as the belief that students leaving high school must obtain a 4-year college degree to achieve a good, well-paying career.
The two said the industry is partially to blame for not being more aggressive in changing that stigma.
"It's our job to really change the image of manufacturing," Carr said, adding that parents and students, need to be educated about how manufacturing jobs have changed and how they can lead to a well-paying career.
Hoster added the industry needs something similar to the dairy industry's highly successful "Got Milk?" campaign.
"The more word-of-mouth you can create, the more manufacturing is understood and the more people say manufacturing is a great career and a great opportunity," Hoster said.
The group agreed on the importance of manufacturers being active partners with communities and educational institutions in order to develop the avenues that bring skilled workers to needed jobs. Mary Beth Ottinger, dean of career and technical programs at Harper College, outlined many of the 40 programs offered through the college, from the college's Advanced Manufacturing Technology Department to certification courses, internships and partnerships. The success of the programs has been mainly through the support and commitment of local businesses and high schools, she noted.
Even with the programs, she said it has been difficult keeping up with the industry's growing needs.
"We can't get our students through our programs fast enough," Ottinger said.
The group also agreed about the importance of attracting Millennials into the industry, stressing the need for employers to understand that generation's needs and motivations before trying to recruit them.
"I've heard the anecdote that Millennials all want to be president by Friday," said Candace Fisher, director of organizational development for the Management Association -- the HR Source in Downers Grove. "Gentlemen, they don't want your job because they don't want to put in the hours that are required.
"But what they do want are opportunities to grow and develop and to do new and different things and to give their perspective."
The presenting sponsor for the forum was Harper College. The partnering associations were GOA Regional Business Association, Management Association -- the HR Source, Small Business Advocacy Council, MRA -- The Management Association, The Technology and Manufacturing Association and the Valley Industrial Association.