A Publication of WTVP

There has been a considerable resurgence of U.S. manufacturing. After more than two decades of a growing service-based economy, we are seeing the tide change back to manufacturing. It seems the nation is beginning to realize the importance of actually making things to spur our economies.

While Greater Peoria has a strong tradition of manufacturing excellence, there is a big difference between the manufacturing industry of today and that of yesteryear. Manufacturing has become a very global industry and a highly technical one. It is not just about working on an assembly line and fitting parts together. It is technical, specialized and requires a much different skillset than it did in years past.

It was recently reported that Greater Peoria is the top exporter of merchandise per capita in the entire United States. We exported $29,284 worth of merchandise per person in 2010, according to the International Trade Administration. The five most popular products exported from Greater Peoria are machinery, fabricated metal products, chemicals, transportation equipment and electrical equipment. This is proof that manufacturing is rebounding and Greater Peoria is feeling it.

According to Praxis Strategy Group, an economic research and community strategy company, Illinois has 15 percent more jobs in the manufacturing sector than the national average. It is among the top five states experiencing the fastest growth in manufacturing job gains since the recession. In fact, Illinois added 36,000 manufacturing jobs between January and April of this year.

With this kind of intense growth and so many changes in the industry, it is imperative that we highlight the need for a specially trained and educated workforce so we are able to support the growth of this industry. Earlier this year, it was reported that Greater Peoria had over 200 specialized manufacturing job openings, but companies couldn’t find workers with the right skills to fill those jobs. In the economic development world, we dream of having a business move to town and offer 200 jobs. In this situation, we have 200 jobs but we can’t find qualified workers for them! At a time when we are still dealing with high unemployment, this is unacceptable.

In Greater Peoria, every one percent of our unemployment rate equals approximately 2,000 jobs. If we could fill those aforementioned 200 jobs with people looking for work, it would have a significant impact on the region.

This industry is just one example of how the job market is changing and why more emphasis needs to be put on education and training. Consider that five years ago, we didn’t have iPads, while today, businesses have integrated them into their daily work. Robotics was not a major part of the workplace 10 years ago but today, it’s everywhere. Not too long ago, we were working on typewriters; today, we can knock out a document on our smartphones. Twenty years ago, someone with a college degree wasn’t working retail at the mall, but nowadays, that degree doesn’t guarantee a job.

As educators and business leaders, we need to make sure we are working together so that educational and training curricula match up with the needs of regional businesses. That means educating the next generation of workers for our needs tomorrow, as well as the current generation for our needs today. iBi