NorthBridge Blog

Pat DuganChicago’s unemployment rate has steadied out at around 5.8%, down from 6.4% just a couple of years ago. That’s good news for the overall regional economy, though the problems downstate and other endemic difficulties in the Illinois economy are still with us.

But for some companies, it’s made it tougher to find and hire the kind of skilled workers or specialists they need to fill certain roles. Just a few examples of that?

  • Packaging supply company Uline has a massive operation hereabouts, but one of its biggest hurdles is finding third-shift workers for its operations. As its CFO told one audience, it’s difficult “to find great workers who are very willing to come in at midnight and do great things.” ? Especially, he added, “if there are daytime shifts available in the community.”
  • In the construction industry, which is on fire in Chicago, there’s a serious lack of skilled workers to handle the carpentry, plumbing, electrical and other jobs involved in the recent building boom.
  • Companies like suburban manufacturer Camcraft and others have taken to training and developing their own skilled laborers, since, as the owner of one company put it, “We have posted job postings in newspapers, trade publications, online, and we weren’t getting candidates. We’d have very high-skilled jobs open for a long time—where are these people?”

Skilled LaborersThe demand for highly-skilled technical workers will only increase as time goes by. One recent study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the majority of new jobs created over the next 10 years won’t require a four-year degree.

More skills, more money!

There’s an even better, bottom-line reason for people to take up skilled trades: One new study found that students who gain an industry-aligned, quality post-secondary technical education are earning more, on average, a decade after graduation than their peers at some of the nation’s leading two-and four-year colleges.

The shortage originated, in large part, thanks to the double-whammy of a declining manufacturing sector in the Midwest and the 2008 recession, both of which conspired to eliminate many of these jobs and make companies leery of investing in training and recruitment of these workers.

Now, they find themselves have to take quick steps to keep a supply of skilled workers on tap.

Area schools are beginning to take up the slack. In April, Harper College opened its $1.5 million FMA Metal Fabrication Lab, which will train 600 people a year in robotic welding and other skills. City Colleges of Chicago plans to build a 105,000-square-foot, $75 million advanced manufacturing center at Richard J. Daley College on the Southwest Side.

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