Finding employees

Construction crews labor at a new John Boos & Co. facility in Effingham.

A survey of area business leaders that began Monday will give economic development experts data to help companies fill job openings.

“It should give us a better snapshot than we’ve ever had before about the employment needs of Effingham County,” said JoAnn Sasse Givens, of the Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.

It’s the second such survey the chamber has been involved with, but officials expect this one to be much more helpful than the first one taken in winter. Chamber President Norma Lansing said the results of this more detailed survey should impact what kinds of programs the chamber holds.

The survey results will show what skills potential employees will need and how many workers companies would like to hire.

“We tried to hit on all the businesses that have a workforce need,” Sasse Givens said.

Besides the lack of depth in the first survey, another shortfall was that there weren’t enough participants taking the survey. But the chamber’s Workforce Readiness Task Force, made up of leaders in business and education, has recruited many more business leaders to take this fall’s survey.

“I think the numbers will be significant,” Sasse Givens said. “It will tell us how many people are needed. It’ll determine how we plan for recruitment, training and programming.

“It’s data that we don’t have, but we need it.”

Qualified hires

A common complaint from area employers is not that there aren’t enough people to hire — it’s that there aren’t enough qualified people.

“Our biggest issue is finding qualified people, as well as those committed to the job,” Michael Yager, a member of the leadership team at Mid America Motorworks in Effingham, said in an interview in the spring.

Sasse Givens said that complaint isn’t a problem specific to the Effingham area. It’s been echoed nationally.

“It parallels the whole United States,” she said. “We will have more jobs than people we have to fill them. We’re trying to solve that at the local level.”

The community has responded to that challenge by increasing the interaction between students and employers. The recent “Manufacturing Day” in Effingham was an example. Students toured local manufacturing plants and posed questions to a panel of manufacturing experts.

“The event has grown every year,” Sasse Givens said. “By doing this, we hope to create a pipeline for those in manufacturing.”

Another way to have more qualified workers for local companies is to bring outsiders into Effingham County.

With the Oct. 1 closure of half of Newton’s power plant, the chamber helped organize a recruitment open house for local employers to meet with the nearly 50 laid-off Jasper County employees. And by swooping in early, growing companies in Effingham County have a chance to quickly gain from a sudden flood of experienced workers.

Sasse Givens believes the county is poised to supply its growing companies with a stream of high-quality employees.

“Effingham has always proved itself to be ahead of the curve in many ways,” she said. “The problem didn’t happen overnight. I think we’re heading in a really good direction. It’s a matter of continuing to groom the next generation and making sure people in the region are aware of the opportunities here. It’s a wonderful place to live and work and raise a family.”

Manufacturing growth

According to Ken Larimore, an economic development expert with the University of Illinois Extension, manufacturing will likely be one of the biggest growth sectors in the area’s economy during the next several years.

Sasse Givens said John Boos & Co., Stevens Industries, Archer Daniels Midland Co., and Waupaca Foundry are all companies expecting significant growth.

In spring, ADM, a pet and livestock food manufacturer, purchased a 283,000-square-foot building at 1200 McGrath Ave., in the south part of Effingham, with plans for a 16,500-square-foot expansion. Construction is underway there. 

On South Banker Avenue in Effingham, John Boos & Co., the city’s oldest manufacturer, has built the frame of a new facility.

Job openings at Stevens Industries were posted on the chamber’s website, as of Wednesday.

Part of filling the demand manufacturing companies have for jobs is exposing younger people to what they would actually be doing. In a press release, Lansing said Manufacturing Day “sheds light on the misconception that manufacturing is a low-skilled, assembly-line job.”

Manufacturing facilities “are technologically advanced, utilizing automation, robotics and other state-of-the-art equipment to produce a variety of products shipped around the world.”

“The future of our community depends on the education and vocational opportunities that align with our manufacturers’ skilled labor needs,” Lansing said. “There is an increasing demand for highly skilled professionals in the manufacturing sector who can design, program and operate technology.”

There’s potential for a sizable growth in the county, and officials believe the area’s workforce is prepared to take on the jobs. Though the jobs may require skilled labor, the bottom line is that the employers need people who are hard-working and dependable, officials say.

“Manufacturers are looking for people who are reliable, communicate well, can work as part of a team, are trainable, and have a good work ethic,” she said. “That’s what they’re looking for.”

“Employers need good workers with either the skills to succeed, or a good work ethic and the willingness to learn,” Larimore said, in an interview last year.

“The fact that we have those people in this area is a good sign for the future.”

Stan Polanski can be reached at stan.polanski@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext. 131.

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