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updated: 10/13/2021 11:30 AM

How FEF can help fill the gap in manufacturing jobs

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  • Steve Sikorski

    Steve Sikorski

  • Steve Sikorski

    Steve Sikorski

  • Brian Lewis

    Brian Lewis

By Brian Lewis
Foundry Educational Foundation

Forget all the statistics about manufacturing.

There are only a few that matter -- manufacturing employment is 12,182,000 jobs in the United States with nearly 600,000 of those manufacturing jobs in Illinois, according to the National Association of Manufacturers.

Manufacturers in Illinois account for 12.05% of the total output in the state, employing 9.74% of the workforce. By 2030, 1,500,000 new jobs will be added in the United States due to expected growth in manufacturing. With over 2,500,000 retirements expected -- that's 4,000,000 manufacturing jobs to be filled in the United States through 2030.

Filling that talent gap is a tall task -- something the Foundry Educational Foundation (FEF) has had as its mission for nearly 75 years. FEF is the metal casting industry's educational program. Through its work with member colleges and universities, FEF provides resources to four-year technology programs as well as traditional engineering programs and graduate schools to develop graduates focused on filling technical roles with foundries, manufacturing suppliers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

FEF's reach spans the broad range of higher education from production supervision to advanced technology to specialized research.

Since 1947, FEF has uniquely partnered with metal casting companies, original equipment manufacturers, industrial suppliers and postsecondary educators to groom technical leaders.

"Without FEF, industry is left to knock on door after door to find the right-fit technical talent," said Steve Sikorski, president of MAGMA Foundry Technologies, a large supplier of casting process simulation to the metal casting and other industries with its NA headquarters located in Schaumburg. "By partnering with FEF, our company has had huge success hiring talent from FEF supported engineering and technology programs."

As a nonprofit association, FEF sponsors networking events, promotes industry internships and co-ops, hosts job fairs, awards scholarships, and advances the interests of young engineers and technologists, preparing them for careers in manufacturing. Sikorski's story is typical of many "FEF alumni."

Originally from the South side/suburbs of Chicago, Sikorski grew up in a family mix of blue-collar workers that ranged from the steel industry to law enforcement. As Sikorski continued to grow up he found in an interest in investigating and troubleshooting. With that in mind he began to lean toward a law enforcement career.

With his father working at USS South Works he understood manufacturing and the mix of problem solving and troubleshooting that came along with his father's job.

"My dad was in charge of one of the main blast furnaces and over his 27-year career at South Works, which closed back in the '90s, he worked in the fields of maintenance to his current role of supervising."

Sikorski ended up first going to a local state school for a degree in criminal justice. It was not before long Sikorski began to sense that this may not be the right career path for him and he ended up going to Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas.

"I chose Pitt State because I wanted a smaller institution that was not too costly and I discovered that they had a good manufacturing technology program that I found interesting. I felt that this field would allow me to further my interesting investigating, troubleshooting and creating solutions with being able to be hands on."

Part of FEF's uniqueness is the way the organization connects with colleges and universities -- through a lead (Key) professor of the engineering or technology program focused on manufacturing and/or metal casting. This critical alliance between FEF and educators is the crux of the novel FEF model.

Nine FEF member institutions are within 250 miles of Chicago, including Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan. Working directly with the key educators allows FEF to provide funds to specific areas of need for the professor's program. That direct support (in scholarship funding and discretionary monies for equipment, supplies and even travel to industry conferences) from both industry professionals and FEF, further helps the professor develop and influence future technical talent toward manufacturing.

Russ Rosmait is one such educator -- a professor at Pittsburg State in the Manufacturing Engineering Technology department. "I met Dr. Rosmait through one of my first manufacturing classes, we started talking about where I was from and my family background. With knowing that information he showed me the foundry and that got me hooked into being involved in the metalcasting program at Pitt State."

FEF's annual College Industry Conference (CIC) is the metal casting industry's premier recruitment and career resource event for companies and students. From FEF's network of schools, nearly 120 of the best and brightest students interested in manufacturing careers attend this conference. This year's event will be at the Westin Michigan Avenue on Nov. 18-19. Details can be found at

"I can remember my trip up to the CIC, which at the time was held at the Drake Hotel in Chicago. It was an amazing experience for me to meet students from other schools who shared the same interest and passion in metalcasting. Along with that we had a chance to network with those in industry through a career fair and dinner out to obtain possible internships and full-time positions.

"One part of the conference that really stood out is how FEF and the industry provided students with opportunity to obtain scholarships. Even though I did not receive one it does show how both FEF and the industry are committed and willing to assist students who are specifically interested in the metalcasting industry. "

MAGMA Foundry Technologies, which is one of nine global locations with corporate headquarters based out of Germany, has nearly 27 employees in the Schaumburg office. Five of its last project engineers that have been hired have been from FEF supported programs.

The most recent graduate hired is Nathan Creamer, one year removed from the University of Wisconsin -- Platteville and the FEF-supported Manufacturing Technology Management program. Creamer is already training other engineers, students, and users on the advanced software MAGMASOFT provides.

"The CIC was one of the best experiences of my college career. The connections and conversations I had at the CIC ultimately helped me secure a full-time job upon graduation."

"I tell companies that if you are interested in planning for your organizations technical future, reach out to FEF to find a student that will be the right fit. There is no need to waste time, find the right student who will be a future leader, who is interested in our industry and has been educated with a focus in metalcasting."

I believe FEF's vision for the future still lies in the investment that our stakeholders make in students interested in making their mark in manufacturing and the metal casting industry.

Those investments, the ways that industry plays a role in forming the future and how manufacturers, foundries and suppliers can benefit from these investments will determine if that talent gap can be filled going forward.