McHenry County manufacturing companies look to attract younger generation to workforce

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McHENRY – McHenry County manufacturers are looking to attract younger workers to their companies.

Dozens of local manufacturing and trades industry companies filled the McHenry East High School gym during the second annual Manufacturing Trade and Industry Expo on Wednesday night in a push to get young people involved in the manufacturing trade.

Employers said it can be difficult to keep their workforce where it needs to be, but the jobs they offer will provide the younger generation with financial stability, career development and education opportunities.

The McHenry County Workforce Network partners with McHenry County manufacturing companies and educational institutes – from area high schools to McHenry County College – to get young people into the field.

The workforce offers job assistance to anyone from young adults ages 18 to 24 to adults. Katie Homuth, youth career adviser at the McHenry County Workforce Network, primarily works with young adults.

“[Manufacturing companies] are chomping at the bit for people to get into manufacturing,” she said. “So if we can get them at that transitional age – between 18 and 24 – they don’t know what they want to do with their life. We can kind of guide them and introduce them to manufacturing in the classes we run.”

McHenry High School District 156 offers an education track program to students who are interested in going into the trade.

John Edgar, 16, is taking part in the program and plans to begin his career after graduation, likely with one of the companies the high school partners with to offer apprenticeships, he said.

“It’s a really complicated business, and it intrigues me a lot,” Edgar said. “There is stuff like a punch or a hammer that has so many parts to it. It’s complex, and I like complex things.”

About one-third of McHenry County’s major employers are manufacturing companies, such as Catalent Pharma Solutions, which employs more than 800 people, and Sage Products Inc., which employs nearly 600, according to numbers from the McHenry County Economic Development Corp.

Overall, about 14 percent of McHenry County’s workforce is in the manufacturing industry, according to the agency.

Spring Grove-based Scot Forge employs about 500 people, and officials said they want to keep the pipeline of talent full, which is one reason to recruit at the high school level.

"The one thing that Scot Forge is really excited about with the youth is developing their skill set in particular areas such as manufacturing overall, but machining, programming and maintenance," she said. "Those are the areas that seem to be less attractive right now."

In 2007, the manufacturing industry in McHenry County and surrounding areas – which includes the Chicago, Joliet and Arlington Heights areas – employed 342,000 workers.

Manufacturing employment took a sharp dive during the recession about 2008.

Today, preliminary numbers indicate that the manufacturing industry employs about 282,000 workers. From January to August, local jobs in the industry have dropped by about 0.4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.