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DuPage United event to promote manufacturing training in county

DUPAGE COUNTY – As the nation recovers from the recession, many are trying to reinvigorate the job market.

More than 150 leaders from DuPage County organizations will come together to discuss how to give residents the skills they need to enter the workforce in manufacturing at 7 p.m. July 16 at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn.

The event's organizer, DuPage United, is a non-profit organization that gathers institutions from various county communities to address shared wants and needs.

"Over and over, we hear about people who were impacted by job loss," said Organizer Amy Lawless Ayala. "So we started looking: Where are jobs and where are good paying jobs?"

After examining data, interviews and statistics, she reached her answer: manufacturing.

In its latest monthly jobs report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said that manufacturing hasn't come close to recovering to its pre-2008 job numbers. In an age where machines are doing more and more manufacturing work and the public perception is that jobs are being shipped overseas, manufacturing may seem like a dubious field in which to invest politically.

Not so, according to Lawless Ayala's, findings.

The DuPage Workforce Board says the manufacturing industry employs nearly half a million people in the Chicago region, producing two thirds of Illinois' total exports and generating one of every three jobs in the state.

In her search, Lawless Ayala sent out surveys to 400 area manufacturing companies. Of those that responded, she said about 95 percent have unfilled jobs and 90 percent said its workforce was age 55 or older.

"As I met with these businesses, I found out that a lot of these were actually higher-skilled jobs that required some training, paid well and had benefits," she said.

But the training required to earn that high salary is often inaccessible, she said. Speaking to the College of DuPage and the Technology Center of DuPage, she found that many of the classes that would lead to these jobs had been empty for months.

"If someone wants to take a class, schools won't offer a class for one person," she said. "There isn't enough recruiting and outreach from businesses. They're not going into institutions and telling them and their students about jobs."

She also mentioned those who are employed are often unwilling or unable to quit to take classes during the day. Night classes at community college can be more expensive than they can afford.

In addition, says Pam McDonough, president of the Alliance of Illinois Manufacturing, there is a stigma against manufacturing jobs.

"Schools say that they have classes in manufacturing, which doesn't work," she said. "We need to get kids and parents to understand that its a viable career path."

Some businesses have moved production back into the U.S., Lawless Ayala said. Many businesses are realizing that having trained engineers, designers and workers together under one roof can streamline production, make a better product and provide for a faster regional turnaround, saving the money spent on lower wages abroad.

This presents an opportunity for DuPage County, she said, one she hopes people such as County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, who will be in attendance July 16, takes note of.

"The whole point is to bring elected officials and people together," she said. "This is a problem that the county identified years ago, and so now we have to move it from knowing what the problem is to what we can do about it."

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