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Guest View: October is national manufacturing month; U.S. manufacturing jobs need to be filled

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One of the many important lessons learned during the coronavirus pandemic is how essential it is for the United States to manufacture vital supplies and life-saving medicines right here at home. While the federal government has taken significant strides to build back our capacity to do so, there is one indispensable resource needed to guarantee that these products and many others are made in America for decades and generations to come: qualified workers.

The manufacturing industry is a powerhouse in our state’s economy, contributing more than $304 billion in annual economic output each year and employing more than 550,000 hard working men and women on factory floors in every part of the state. These are good paying, middle-class jobs that help anchor communities and strengthen families.

But manufacturers here and across the country are facing the threat of an aging workforce: over the next decade, it is estimated that 300,000 manufacturing workers will leave the workforce as baby boomers begin to retire. Illinois’ manufacturers are in desperate need of qualified workers to keep factory floors bustling and Illinois companies thriving.

That’s why it’s so important we shine a spotlight on our manufacturing industry during October, which is recognized nationally as Manufacturing Month. This month is an opportunity for manufactures of all kinds to introduce careers in manufacturing to students across the state, as well as an opportunity to highlight the public policy changes needed to support the industry and invest in educational resources.

Over the next six weeks, the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association will be visiting communities around the state, including a stop next week at Rend Lake College, to speak with local manufacturers, business and economic development organizations and educators to hear firsthand about the challenges they face and the successes they’ve had in workforce development and education. The primary goal of the statewide tour will be to develop policy priorities that encourage employers, educational institutions and governments to invest in students and ensure they have the skills necessary to join the workforce of tomorrow.

In the United States, there are currently 800,000 unfilled manufacturing jobs. These jobs remaining unfilled means employers can’t expand operations to meet increased demand, stifling growth and ultimately hurting our communities and hindering our economy.

The manufacturing careers of today look a lot different from those of previous generations. Today’s manufacturing workers are innovators and entrepreneurs, creators, makers and dreamers. In Illinois alone, manufacturing workers produce mechanical parts that now orbit the earth on the international space station and build the nation’s first ever mass-produced all-electric pickup truck.

The innovation and resiliency of manufacturers helped bring amazing products like those to market and brought the nation through the darkest days of the pandemic. While brighter days are surely ahead, Illinois manufacturers, educational institutions and our partners in government need to invest in equipping our students with the skills necessary to take on the next great challenge of our time. The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Education Foundation is proud to make educating Illinois’ students a priority.

Sarah Hartwick is vice president of the Education and Workforce Policy of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and executive director of the IMA Education Foundation.

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