The newly-hired lead coordinator for manufacturing job training program Career Connect Metro West says that, after months of work and years of planning, it and partner agencies are ready to begin filling the empty manufacturing lines of DuPage County.
Joe Dutra began his post June 2, hired with part of the $200,000 in seed money the DuPage County Board pledged to the effort in March.
The initiative spawned by nonprofit DuPage United will accept its first class of workforce trainees Sept. 8, he said.
"When DuPage United first started reaching out to the community several years ago, jobs were obviously the biggest concern," he said. "So we started diving into solutions."
One solution was manufacturing.
According to DuPage United, the county has the second biggest manufacturing industry in the state, behind Cook. But existing companies have had to turn away new business due to lack of trained workers, Dutra said, and the organization estimates there will be 9,000 new, high-paying jobs in the field over the next 10 years vacated by retirees.
"If we can't replace those 9,000 jobs, manufacturing is going to leave," he said. "If we put them in now, we can have experts in the field. Economic development through workforce development – if we have the workforce, manufacturing will grow and more is going to come."
Manufacturing expansion also helps other industries, Dutra said, creating a trickle-down effect for the entire area.
During the last several months, Career Connect has hosted more than 20 recruitment sessions across the county, including last week at Glen Ellyn's Faith Lutheran Church, one of DuPage United's many faith-based partners.
Faith Lutheran member Debbie Fulks, a volunteer organizer for the Aug. 20 session, said the church hosted 22 attendees – all but one individually recruited by Faith members, and only one a member of Faith.
Fulks said recruitment efforts included speaking to church members, contacting area nonprofits and reaching out to a social worker at subsidized housing complex Marian Park in Wheaton.
"We're trying to shrink a national problem down to a local level and solve it locally," she said. "Many residents are totally unaware of these good jobs and that there was training available."
The prospective training participants are interviewed by Career Connect board members, including Dutra, and some move on to a second round of interviews and reading and math testing with jobs trainer Jane Addams Resource Corporation.
Corporation Associate Director Regan Brewer said her organization looks for people who have a good attitude, are reliable and have an eagerness to learn the trade.
"We're not interested in people coming in who just need any job," she said. "It's a tough career – there's fire, you wear a lot of gear, it's hard work. ... We want someone who walks through the shop and has their eyes light up."
The first set of classes in computerized numerical control and welding will run 3:30 to 9 p.m. Monday to Friday at the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison, Brewer said. Classes are open entry, meaning accepted candidates can begin whenever they like and leave when they are certified and have a job.
While there are still some logistics to work out – Fulks mentioned transportation issues – Brewer said the partnership with the center was a "match made in Heaven" to provide a workplace-simulating environment. She said the goal for the DuPage program was to have 20 to 25 complete one of the two classes by the end of the year, with all certified in their field and safety certified with a forklift license.
Dutra said he is reaching out to area nonprofits to help provide resources to program members, including daycare. The involved groups will work with the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing, a 600-strong partner organization, to place workers.
"This is more than just training people in welding – we want to develop a truly strong manufacturing branch in DuPage County," he said.
Upcoming Career Connect Metro West recruitment sessions
5 to 7 p.m. Sept. 4
Loaves and Fishes –1871 High Grove Lane, Naperville
7:15 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 16
Islamic Center of Naperville – 450 Olesen Ave., Naperville
10 to 11:30 a.m., Sept. 25
Hope's Front Door – 1047 Curtiss St., Room 610, Downers Grove
7 to 8:30 p.m., Oct. 7
St Joseph’s Catholic Church – 4824 Highland Ave., Downers Grove