Illinois manufacturers in need of skilled workers - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Illinois manufacturers in need of skilled workers

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WSIL -- Illinois manufacturers are doing their best to find and train skilled workers, but keeping those workers is another challenge. Now, state lawmakers and advocates are proposing changes to help fill the gap. 

One local company that can relate is Phoenix Modular Elevator in Mt. Vernon, which is expanding.

"We are so busy, sending elevators all over the united states, that we've doubled our facility," says Russell Ward, Marketing Manager. 

Currently, there are 30 employees but more are needed. Especially if orders continue at the same rate, a second shift could be added in the near future. 

"I would say that we could add another one or two good welders and employees down the line as well," Ward explains. 

He says the biggest issue when it comes to hiring is that there is a limited number of skilled workers in the area, "A lot of the quality employees, they are already snapped up by other manufacturers at this point in time, so now we’re all competing for the same employees." 

To find workers, Phoenix Modular has attended work fairs, hosted Manufacturing Day for high school students and has it's own apprenticeship program. "Not only are they working here, but they're also getting their school paid for. And then, of course, the books are paid for as well," Ward says. 

After completing the program, the employee will be an elevator technician making around $75,000 a year. But, there's another challenge, keeping the worker. 

"Why would you stay in Illinois where your taxes are so high? You go to Missouri or Indiana or Kentucky," Ward points out. "We lose that labor, we lose that valuable community member." 

Ward believes Illinois policy has to change so manufacturers can hire and maintain skilled workers. Mark Denzler, President and CEO of the Illinois Manufactures Association, agrees. He wants lawmakers to pass SB 216, a proposed tax credit for employers. 

"This small inventive will help offset the cost of instructional materials for apprentices who will work 2-3 years while in school and then move directly into the work place," Denzler says. 

Ward says a break like that would further the company's training and would likely do the same for other employers. 

Several other bills have been proposed to fill the skilled worker gap for Illinois manufacturers. They include a proposal for community colleges and universities to waive tuition for students studying STEM, who then agree to then teach at a high school or university. 

Other legislation has to do with tax relief like updating and making the Research and Development tax credit permanent, and renewing the Manufacturer's Purchase credit. 

Currently, there are a half million manufacturer workers in Illinois, but more than half are set to retire in the next ten years. 

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