Our district has the third-highest concentration of manufacturing jobs in the entire country. That translates to nearly 100,000 people working in manufacturing businesses, large and small. These jobs are not the old smokestack, Rust-Belt jobs of the last century, but the new, high-tech, 21st Century, advanced manufacturing jobs driving today’s economy.
With this growth comes increasing need for innovative and skilled manufacturing workers. This need requires a strategic commitment to developing a well-trained, capable workforce.
Two local programs working to boost manufacturing caught my eye, and I wanted to share them with you.
Recently, I joined members of the Veterans Rapid Employment Initiative (VREI), a local program connecting recently-discharged veterans with manufacturing careers, during a tour of a Des Plaines-based manufacturer. Connecting veterans with manufacturing is a win-win proposition. It expands career opportunities for our veterans, whose unique and technical skills ideally suit them to fill skilled positions, and helps drive the next generation of manufacturing growth.
I also participated in the Wheeling Manufacturing Conference at Wheeling High School. This school is home to some of the most exciting educational and industry cooperation in the country. From the high school’s new nanotechnology lab that I visited with Education Secretary Arne Duncan in October to its manufacturing center and the village's commitment to business and manufacturing development, Wheeling is a national model for integrating economic, educational and municipal strengths.
Both of these programs further highlight the need to address our growing skills gap and ensure manufacturers can hire the skilled workers they need to compete in the 21st Century. Legislation such as the AMERICA Works Act and LEARN Act—both bills I introduced—seeks to bridge that gap, and with more partnerships and initiatives like the VREI and Wheeling Manufacturing Conference, I am confident the Tenth District will lead the way in innovative manufacturing for a new century.