Revitalizing Manufacturing and Expanding Opportunities for Employment

We were delighted to see the Editorial in The Chicago Tribune on July 5, 2018 based on a June 7th report by the Great Cities Institute and The Century Foundation’s Rediscovering Government, entitled Revitalizing Manufacturing and Expanding Opportunities for Chicago’s Black and Latino Communities. This is a powerful report with an extensive amount of data and analyses of the state of manufacturing and employment in the Chicago region. The report also contains recommendations on how to match the need for workers in manufacturing with the needs for jobs in many Black and Latino communities. Manufacturing job training programs, particularly those oriented toward youth, such as Manufacturing Renaissance’s Manufacturing Connect, can help fill thousands of available manufacturing positions, while simultaneously reducing unemployment, stemming violence, and bringing more manufacturing businesses to the region.

The report asserts,

In this moment in Chicago’s economic history, there is an opportunity to revitalize the region’s recovering manufacturing sector with a more inclusive future. The sector faces critical challenges attracting a new generation of workers that can adapt to the advanced manufacturing workplace increasingly characterized by robotics and automation. The region also has high rates of joblessness among blacks and Latinos, particularly those living in highly segregated and disinvested neighborhoods. With a commitment to expand opportunities for education and job training, the manufacturing sector and these communities of color can simultaneously address their respective employment needs.

The Tribune Editorial also highlights key aspects of the report,

Yes, the steel mills are gone, but “The City That Works” is still “The City That Makes.” There’s something wrong with this picture, however. Last year in the Chicago area, there were two job openings for every hire, according to the study. At least 16,000 unfilled job openings involved work that required only a high school education. The jobs are there, but there aren’t enough qualified workers to fill them.

But guess what — the labor pool is there. In 2016, unemployment among African-Americans in Cook County stood at 15.5 percent, and 7.3 percent among Hispanics. The key, then, is to prepare those young people for jobs in manufacturing.

We remember what one youth told the Great Cities Institute for a youth joblessness report the group had published last year: “Everyone wants drugs and violence to stop. Well then … get us off the streets and get us into some work clothes, and you will see the change.” That’s a call to action that leaders in metropolitan Chicago should heed.

The Great Cities Institute/Century Foundation report, Revitalizing Manufacturing and Expanding Opportunities for Chicago’s Black and Latino Communities, co-authored by Teresa Córdova, Matthew D. Wilson and Andrew Stetner, was released at a Summit on June 7th, 2018 at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Local partners who joined us to sponsor the summit included Manufacturing Renaissance and the Chicago Federation of Labor. Key also in the organizing of the event was Brad Markel, Executive Director of the Industrial Union Council of the AFLCIO and Tom Croft, Executive Director of the Steel Valley Authority. Manufacturing employers, union leaders and workforce development professionals attended day-long event which also included remarks by State Treasurer, Michael Frerichs. The Summit, Inclusion and Industry 4.0, was the third in a series organized by High Wage America Campaign of the Century Foundation’s Bernard L. Schwartz Rediscovering Government Initiative directed by Jeff Madrick, who provided opening remarks at the Summit. “Industry 4.0 envisions a fourth industrial revolution that harnesses the power of technology and aims to place diverse communities at the heart of this transformation.”  Local news outlets covered the event.

In an opinion piece published on June 7, 2018 in Crain’s: Chicago Business, Córdova and Stetner, referring to the region’s “segregated economic recovery and history of unequal opportunity,” remind us of the long-term impacts of deindustrialization in the region noting that many communities in the Chicago region are still experiencing the negative effects.  “These communities stand to gain immensely from remedying the workforce mismatches plaguing Chicago’s manufacturing sector.” Reinvesting in education and job training programs is most certainly a key strategy for harnessing this opportunity as the region rekindles its manufacturing sector with clean industry and advanced technology.

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