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DuPage United announces manufacturing initiative, Cronin pledges support

Nonprofit DuPage United has announced plans to spearhead a new organization called DuPage Connect that will serve manufacturing companies with positions for willing job-seekers.

DuPage Connect will bring together manufacturers, nonprofits and other agencies to form an advisory board that will identify, recruit, train and hire employees in the manufacturing sector.

DuPage United brings religious and civic institutions together to identify community issues such as government waste and to facilitate services such as English as a second language classes. Recently, the organization decided to shift its focus toward jobs, specifically those in advanced manufacturing.

Despite large numbers of job seekers across the county, DuPage United discovered that area manufacturers are unable to find qualified employees to the extent that they have turned down new business and growth.

"Typically we have a lot of services that are structured to service our population, but sometimes they don't mesh well or they get so antiquated that they don't meet the current needs," DuPage United's Workforce Development Director Tom Wendorf said.

Connecting the unemployed and underemployed with jobs and services is key to economic growth in the county, Wendorf said. But there are road blocks to making the connection, including public perception and lack of training support or unawareness of existing services.

"When I first heard about manufacturing jobs, I did not think my kids or grandkids should take those jobs," said Tasneem Qadeer, a representative from the Islamic Center of Naperville, at a meeting July 16 at Faith Lutheran Church in Glen Ellyn. "It turns out I was not the only one."

Wendorf said that manufacturing has a "perception and image" problem. Many see the industry as hard, dirty and repetitive work, despite recent technological advancements that bring much more nuance to the jobs.

Those who look past the perception often aren't aware of available resources or can't take advantage of them, Wendorf said.

workNet DuPage, a state and county organization, offers various development opportunities to potential workers, including vouchers for job training.

Institutions such as the College of DuPage also offer courses in these fields, but COD Executive Vice President Joe Collins says filling the seats in those classes has been a challenge for decades. The college has done its own outreach, but he thinks that more resources could help.

"Very often we hear from people that 'I can't afford to take a year off or two years from my job because I have to pay my bills. I can't go to school,'" he said. "If we had people that would support the students while they were going to school, that would be huge."

DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin also spoke at the July 16 meeting, saying he had met with DuPage United and is ready to support its efforts.

"I'm in. I'm on board. You can count on me," he said, to resounding applause.

Wendorf said that Cronin had pledged that he would work with the county board to help DuPage Connect become better established. Cronin said that the county had recently received a $350,000 grant from the state for job training.

Wendorf hopes to see the county become the first sponsor of the organization, which he anticipates will be fully formed by the start of next year, with the help of local funding.

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