Cindy Tomei, president of the Valley Industrial Association, addresses the audience during the VIA's Spring Lunch at the Wyndam Lisle Hotel.
Cindy Tomei, president of the Valley Industrial Association, addresses the audience during the VIA's Spring Lunch at the Wyndam Lisle Hotel.

LISLE -- Manufacturing in America does matter. It’s about jobs and what it takes to make United States companies competitive in the world market. It’s about infrastructure, access to capital and the human element to make sure that quality people walk in the door every day.
Those were the keynote comments from Jennifer M. McNelly, president of the The Manufacturing Institute, at the spring luncheon of the Valley Industrial Association. The event was sold out with more than 240 people in attendance at the Wyndham Lisle Hotel.
TMI is affiliated with the National Association of Manufacturers and is described as part think tank, part solutions center. Ronald Bullock, chairman of Bison Gear and Engineering Corporation in St. Charles, serves as the volunteer chairman of TMI’s board of trustees.
The skills gap in manufacturing has been an ongoing area of discussion for many years. McNelly noted that it’s not unusual for manufacturers to have job positions available for as much as 15 months.
“Because of the skills gap, 82 percent of companies can’t find qualified workers and 600,000 jobs go unfulfilled,” McNelly said.  
She issued a call for action and outlined two key activities in which manufacturers should participate and support with the goal of recruiting and training future manufacturing employees.  
“That eighth grader that comes through your plant today may come back wanting to work for you in a few years. You need to be involved in your community,” she said.
The first Manufacturing Day in America involved more than 250 companies that opened their doors and invited the community to tour their plants.
“Kids, teachers, parents and guidance counselors got to see what you do,” she said. She asked the audience, “how many of you have encouraged your sons and daughters to consider manufacturing as a career?”
This year Manufacturing Day will be held on Oct. 4.
A second strategy spearheaded by TMI is worker certification utilizing a network of schools, in particular community colleges. McNelly specifically mentioned Harper College in Palatine, College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, and Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove and Aurora, as being focused on helping to erase the manufacturing skills gap.
Manufacturing offers competitive compensation. “We should no longer beat ourselves up over what was perceived as low wages. Studies show that graduates of two-year community colleges trained for manufacturing positions make more money on average than graduates of four-year colleges,” McNelly said.
The institute reports that over 84,000 certifications in various manufacturing skills training have been issued toward a goal of 500,000 by 2016.
McNelly said that there has been an emphasis on diversity in the workforce, with efforts being made to encourage women to work in manufacturing and the recruitment of military veterans. More than 15,000 veterans have transitioned into the manufacturing industry in recent years.
“We give them an opportunity,” she said.
McNelly encouraged manufacturers to take a pledge to invest in education and training. “In the end, the solution is us.”