Business Block Party
It Takes a Village: Creating the Next Generation of Skilled Workers
It Takes a Village: Creating the Next Generation of Skilled Workers

According to, over the next 10 years, 3.5 million manufacturing jobs will become available. But 2 million of those jobs will go unfilled.


There are simply not enough skilled workers to fill these positions.

Finding qualified job candidates is one of the biggest issues in manufacturing. This is nothing new. The problem has constantly been addressed, but the solution has yet to be defined.

But for Elk Grove Village, finding a solution means all hands on deck. Manufacturing leaders and educators are joining forces to create a process that continuously refuels the manufacturing industry with skilled workers, generation after generation.

Here's what it takes:

It starts with education and awareness at a young age

In Elk Grove, the future generation of makers first evolves inside Elk Grove High School (EGHS). Four years ago EGHS launched a manufacturing and engineering curriculum led by Bill Merchantz, manufacturing instructor and past president of Technology Education Association of Illinois.

With over 400 manufacturing companies in Elk Grove, Associate Principal Kyle Burritt strongly believed it wouldn't make sense to not have a manufacturing lab at the high school — especially when there is so much opportunity for students right here in their backyard.

"To build the program, we talked to sister schools, as well as the Village, to figure out exactly what we needed," stated Burritt.

The program provides students with machining and manufacturing skills needed to be qualified for an entry-level manufacturing position. They have the opportunity to work on mills, lathes, CNC Mill, CNC Lathe, surface grinders, welding simulator, and other high-tech machinery.

Since companies look for credentialed candidates to fill positions, credentials and certifications are given to students based upon specific career path:

—National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS)

—American Welding Society (AWS)

—Manufacturing Skill Standards Council (MSSC)

But after sitting down with Merchantz and Burritt, providing education in manufacturing can sometimes be a challenge.

"We are a comprehensive school, which means we can only provide awareness and give students who are interested in manufacturing the tools they need to succeed," said Burritt. "We can do our best to talk to parents and shine light on the benefits of a career in manufacturing, and we can stress that education doesn't stop after a student graduates."

EGHS works with Harper College to help students work towards certification from the Manufacturing Skill Standards Council.

It's up to businesses to offer experience and growth

Many local associations like the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) or Illinois Manufacturers Association (IMA) offer leading-edge training programs that help workers continue their education so they can advance in their career. "Many of these shops will pay for workers to enroll in ongoing training programs," Merchantz said.

Earlier this month, the Daily Herald Business Ledger held a Newsmakers' Forum on the Future of Manufacturing, which included a panelist of industry leaders. Several topics were discussed, but the gap in skilled workers was a top priority.

Kathy Miller, owner and president of HST Materials, mentioned during the forum that her company hired a young woman engineer, a recent graduate of Olivet College and an EGHS alumni. "She was our best candidate," she declared.

Miller discussed that her company gives interns and entry-level workers a chance to work on projects and come up with solutions based on their knowledge and expertise. Doing so has strengthened the future of HST Materials. Miller was awarded a 2015 Business Excellence Award during the Made in Elk Grove Manufacturing & Technology Expo for Excellence in Innovation.

Click here to view the full Newsmakers' Forum on Manufacturing & International Business

More support for education means more skilled workers

Manufacturing leaders, if you want skilled workers, it's crucial to give back to the community. Mike Walter, president of MET Plastics (who also won a 2015 Business Excellence Award but in the Community Service category), was recognized for his thoughtful donation of $20,000 worth of old equipment to Elk Grove High School.

During his speech, he stated, "Our intention was to get kids interested in manufacturing … if you go into the advanced manufacturing lab here, you're going to see the enthusiasm [the students] have, and a lot of that comes from their instructor, Bill Merchantz."

He also encouraged the manufacturers in the room to donate old equipment. You can watch the full inspiring speech here:

To fill 2,000,000 jobs will skilled workers will take incredible collaboration between business owners and educators. After all, it takes a Village.

To learn more about the EGHS Advanced Manufacturing Program or to donate equipment to Elk Grove High School, contact Associate Principal Kyle Burritt at