October 19 – Area high school students got the chance to learn about career opportunities offered by local companies during Decatur’s third annual Manufacturing Days expo at Richland Community College.
“The main goal is awareness. These kids, they need to know what is happening in the community around them. They need to know that these positions are available, that these opportunities are available,” said Andrew Taylor, Economic Development Officer for the Economic Development Corporation for Decatur and Macon County.
More than 300 students from MacArthur and Eisenhower high schools and the Heartland Technical Academy attended the two-day event that featured approximately 15 manufacturing companies as well as representative from trade labor unions. Some of the companies offered tours while others made presentations, and students also had an opportunity to attend a manufacturing symposium.
“It’s been a fantastic turnout,” RCC President Dr. Cris Valdez said Friday, the final day of the celebration. “The students showed great interest in all the manufacturers here. It’s been well-coordinated and we’re grateful for all the partners that put this together.”
Valdez said the event opens students up to options for future career paths.
“For every job that requires a professional degree or advanced degree, there are seven jobs that require these middle-skill abilities,” he said. “They’re not all in manufacturing, but manufacturing makes up a great deal of that. Especially in Decatur, that’s the hub of what we do here so we want to be able to supply those companies with a skilled work force.”
Taylor pointed to figures that show the industry remains vital to Decatur’s economy.
“People talk about manufacturing in Decatur as though we need to bring it back. It’s never left, it’s still here,” said Taylor. “A large percentage – 21.5 percent – of our workforce is employed in manufacturing, and 37.6 percent of our GDP is made in manufacturing. If these kids want to be a part of that, we’ll take them.”
Coordinators moved the event to two weeks after National Manufacturing Day on October 5 so as not to interfere with the WSOY Community Food Drive. Valdez said the event also benefits Richland.
“It’s a win-win everywhere you go. We’re looking to increase enrollment, primarily because we need to help supply our workforce with skilled workers,” he said.
Participating companies included ADM, Caterpillar, MRI, T/CCI Manufacturing, Union Iron, Mason Manufacturing, Voestalpine Nortrak, Ring Container Technologies, Decatur Industrial Electric, SMART Local 218, Midstate Electrical Training Center, Workforce Investment Solutions, Mueller Water Products, Mervis Industries, Huston Patterson, Strip Masters, Air Caster and Barton Manufacturing.
“Many of these companies, as well as Richland Community College, have pathways in place,” said Taylor. “If students want to consider a career in this they can start early … get things moving forward so the day they’re ready to enroll, they have everything in place and they can jump right into it.”