Campaign seeks to build workforce for new manufacturing, crafts jobs

Dale Stewart Workforce
STEWART: The connection is strong between manufacturing and crafts jobs.

Alton ­– Economic development leaders expect about 1,500 new manufacturing jobs to open in Southwestern Illinois in the next five years plus another 1,200 jobs in the trades.

So they have introduced a campaign to help students now in high school become qualified for those jobs. It is called “Manufacture Your Future/Craft Your Future – A Career that Pays in Southwestern Illinois.”

The idea is to educate students, parents, guidance counselors, principals and more about the high-paying jobs that will be available, the skills needed for the positions, and how to go about landing one.

Dale Stewart, executive secretary-treasurer of the Southwestern Illinois Building and Construction Trades Council, serves on the Manufacturing Steering Committee of Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois, one of the organizers of the campaign.

He was among those who helped introduce it at Cope Plastics in Alton on Sept. 14.

“The connection between the trades and our manufacturing industry is a strong one,” Stewart noted. “In many cases, when our craftsmen put on their boots and pick up their tools to head to work, they are headed to one of the dozens of manufacturing facilities around town.

“There’s strong demand for all types of craftsmen, and that means plenty of opportunities for those with the right skills and education.”

Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan also spoke, saying the group’s findings go along what the county already knows.

“Our region is one of the best locations for manufacturing in the Midwest and has the largest number of workers employed in manufacturing of its peer cities,” Dunstan said. “That all bodes well for the future of manufacturing in our region and underscores the importance of this campaign.”

The groups developing the campaign are the Madison-Bond and MidAmerica workforce investment boards plus the Leadership Council’s Manufacturing Steering Committee, which also has members from Phillips 66, SunCoke Energy, U.S. Steel, Olin, Dynegy, Metro East Industries, America’s Central Port and others.

Local community colleges and the regional school superintendents for Madison and St. Clair counties are also represented.


After meeting for more than a year, the group determined that workforce availability and lack of skills would be the greatest impediment to future manufacturing growth in the region.

Workforce 2“Thousands retiring in the coming years will create a wave of openings that will be hard to fill unless more people open their minds to the prospect of a future career in manufacturing or the many trades that support our manufacturers,” said Don Vichitvongsa, general manager of Suncoke Energy and chairman of the Steering Committee.

People have the wrong idea about manufacturing jobs, added David Stoecklin, executive director of the Madison-Bond Workforce Development Board.

“This campaign aims to dispel the myth of manufacturing as dirty work, mediocre pay and job insecurity and instead spotlight the reality, which is opportunities for a fast-paced, high-paying career using the latest in state-of-the-art technology,” Stoecklin said.

The group reported that manufacturing jobs in Madison and St. Clair counties offer average earnings of about $80,000 a year, well above the national average, and that careers in the trades average almost $33 per hour plus benefits worth $22 an hour.


Many of the expected jobs can be obtained with a high school diploma or equivalent plus on-the-job training, or with certifications that can be earned in two years or less. The path to success in the trades typically involves an apprenticeship, in which young workers get paid during on-the-job training.

But many families, educators and counselors believe college is the only path to a family-supporting career, so the campaign will include efforts to reach not only students, but also their parents and educators.

The goals are:

  • To create a better understanding of the opportunities that exist.
  • To determine if a student’s skills and interests better suit one of the hands-on jobs that local companies and trades will need to fill.
  • To identify the steps needed to prepare them for those positions.

Rick Stubblefield, workforce development coordinator for St. Clair County, said the campaign has several educators serving as volunteers to provide input on ways to get the message across.

“Now, after months of planning, we’re ready to begin spreading the word,” Stubblefield said.


Billboards are in place in three prominent locations, highlighting a website that’s been launched to provide more information – – along with a toll-free phone number, (844) 935-57243 (800-WELL-PAID) that people can call to learn more.

A speakers’ bureau is preparing to spread the word to students, counselors and principals at high schools, and those students’ parents will learn about it at PTA meetings and through school newsletters.

Facilities tours will be available for students and school staff and faculty to see today’s advanced manufacturing firsthand. Plans are being made to use both traditional media and social media to connect with students.

Using the website and toll-free number, students can request details on manufacturers with job openings and how to apply, plus more details on opportunities within each of the trades, such as carpenter, iron worker, electrician or operating engineer.

Ad Frost ElectrictTwo events are being planned for students. The first is Manufacturing Day, “Handmade to High-Tech,” from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 2, an open house at the Southwestern Illinois College Sam Wolf Granite City Campus Industrial Technology Center.

Students can tour the newly renovated manufacturing facility, see demonstrations of cutting-edge technology, try virtual welding and meet local manufacturers displaying their products and capabilities. For more information, go online to

On Nov. 2-5, students can check out the Metro Career Expo, to be held at Belle-Clair Fairground and Expo Center in Belleville. More than over 750 students are expected to get hands-on experience with construction trades. More details will be made available.


At the introduction, Vichitvongsa said another myth is that workers must go to large companies to get good jobs.

“The top 50 manufacturers in Southwestern Illinois account for approximately 16,000 jobs, while smaller manufacturers employ many more,” he said.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern noted that the coming positions will include both new ones and replacements for retirees.

“While many of the positions are opening up due to retirements versus growth, they still represent opportunity for stable employment in our region, as well as tremendous opportunity for today’s youth who may not be college bound or would prefer to avoid the cost of earning a four-year degree,” he said.

“This campaign will help them to take a different path and get on the fast track to the future they’ve always dreamed about.”

Leadership Council Southwestern Illinois is an economic development corporation representing Madison and St. Clair counties, working to unite business, industry, government, education and labor for economic growth.



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