By Michael Cooper, Springfield News Sun
Champaign County has a growing need for skilled labor at local plants as many in the workforce prepares for retirement, which is why county leaders and local manufacturers teamed up Friday to reach out high school students.
About 100 high school students attended Manufacturing Day at Urbana University on Friday, held annually by the Champaign Economic Partnership. The event aims to educate students about the manufacturers located in the community, their products and the skills needed for employment, Economic Development Director Marcia Bailey said.
Champaign County has about 3,725 manufacturing jobs, Bailey said, up from about 2,900 in 2013.
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However a majority of the local manufacturing workforce has neared retirement age, including many who at the higher-end of the pay scale, Bailey said. About 49 percent of local manufacturing employees are between 45 and 64 years old, while just 3 percent are between the ages of 19 and 24, she said.
“We need these students, this younger workforce to fill the positions that will need to be filled,” Bailey said. “It’s a huge, huge issue.”
The average annual earnings of a manufacturing worker is about $66,000 in Champaign County, she said. “You don’t find those kind of jobs immediately, but you start working your way up,” Bailey said.
The students toured several manufacturing facilities and participated in an interactive workshop Friday with companies such as KTH, Honeywell and the Hall Co. among others. It’s the third manufacturing education event held in Champaign County this year.
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Rittal, which makes metal enclosures for industrial and information technology systems, also held tours for local students, Benefits Specialist-Human Resources Michele Mandelik said.
“A lot of them said, ‘We didn’t even know you were here,’” Mandelik said.
The company has several employees with 10 and 20 years of experience retiring in coming years, she said, and will need skilled employees to take their place.
“When they leave, we’re losing that experience, so we want to transfer that experience to new hires,” Mandelik said.
A group of sophomores from Graham High School toured the Honeywell plant on Friday morning, said Ali Peterson, who runs the career-based intervention and career connections program through the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center. The program helps students create both academic and career goals, some of which include manufacturing and aviation.
“It was a highlight for them,” Peterson said. “It gave them some different options than they had previously considered and allowed to do some networking with them as well.”
Each student has a different plan for the future, she said, which doesn’t always include college. Some students are encouraged to go to a career technical center or a trade school.
“It will help them succeed and make them employable for years to come past graduation or that first job,” Peterson said.
Students need to be as employable as possible before leaving high school, especially in light of state and national unemployment statistics, Mechanicsburg High School Teacher Kurt Forrest said. Many students complete four years of college, but sometimes can’t find a job in their field and are left with thousands of dollars in debt.
“We need to make sure every single kid has a plan that fits that individual,” Forrest said. “When you do that you’re going to set them up for success.”
Education is still vitally important, Bailey said. Students can also enroll in college while they’re still a high school student through Ohio Hi-Point, she said.
“It’s not just one path, there are many paths,” Bailey said.
The tour at Rittal was a great experience, Triad High School freshman Daniel Lake said.
“I learned a lot just walking through the factory,” Lake said. “It’s a place I might be interested in after leaving high school. … (Manufacturing) is just a high-demand field. There are so many things you can apply the skills you learn for it, too.”
By the numbers
3,725: Manufacturing jobs in Champaign County
49: Percentage of manufacturing employees ages 45-64
3: Percentage of manufacturing employees ages 19-24
Source: Champaign Economic Partnership
The Springfield News-Sun provides complete coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories on monthly unemployment statistics and expansions at Navistar.