Manufacturers need to partner more with educational institutions to close the gap of skilled workers needed to meet the increasing demands of the industry, according to experts speaking at the Daily Herald Business Ledger's Newsmakers Forum on Manufacturing and International Business Thursday.
A crowd of more than 100 suburban business owners and entrepreneurs listened to the panel discuss smart policies for manufacturing and innovation during the event at the Illinois Institute of Technology -- Rice Campus building in Wheaton.
The panel -- as well as the majority of the audience -- agreed business has been the same or better than last year, despite a slowdown in activity in recent weeks.
However, the group noted one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the lack of skilled workers that are able to handle the changing dynamics of the industry. There are currently more than 600,000 skilled jobs nationwide that are unfilled in the industry, according to Daniel Corbett, principal-in-charge of Corbett, Duncan and Hubly PC in Itasca.
Corbett pointed to partnerships like Harper College's Advanced Manufacturing program -- which partners with a number of suburban businesses to develop a curriculum for training and experience in advanced manufacturing -- and one of the local partnerships that is helping to bridge that gap.
He urged manufacturers in the room to be a part of the local move to develop more industry-school partnerships.
"There is progress being made out there to help you," Corbett said. "By getting together and working with other groups, you can work to address the problem in your shop."
IIT Industry Associate Professor Will Mauer added he sees a worker gap in the industry that spans two generations, and the need for collaboration between the industry and education "has never been greater.
"They just don't need people who can run machines, they need to do more," Mauer said. "They need to be able to do scheduling, quality, organize people, run projects.
"We're training adults who want to work with their minds as much as their hands."
Mauer also noted that while the manufacturing industry is making progress in adopting lean techniques, the execution of those policies among U.S. companies is still lacking. He stressed that companies needs to be faster in developing and delivering products to its customers, as well as responding to customers' needs, as other countries like China become better with their manufacturing capabilities.
"Speed is becoming a common thread to all organizations," he said. The need is great to get things done right the first time.
"Speed is life. Companies that embrace that will find things getting better."
Mark Miller, CEO of Carol Stream-based Prince Industries Inc., echoed that sentiment, especially for China. Prince opened a manufacturing operation in China in 2001, he said, and at that time they were able to provide better quality products than domestic companies.
"They have gotten better and better every year," Miller said. "It's tough now. We're competing with companies we hadn't seen in the last 5 years."
Miller noted that while Prince's China facility was originally built to import products back to the U.S., today 90 percent of the products made in China are sold there.
"And we bring the profits back to the U.S.," he said.
Diane Diffendarfer Clark, multinational client service practice leader for international insurance broker Marsh Inc., told the business owners that expanding operations oversees opens up a unique set of potential liabilities, everything from covering employees and assets to product liability.
Every country has a unique culture that could be vastly different from the way business is conducted in the U.S., she said. And a business has to carefully measure its exposure to potential risk.
For example, she noted, product liability issues have become more commonplace in China, while Asia in general is becoming more sensitive to environmental issues.
And, while the U.S. remains one of the most litigious countries in the world, countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia are seeing an increase in claims litigation, she said.
"You really need to know what is the environment that you are going into," Clark said. "The protections you have in the U.S. may not be provided to you outside the U.S."
Presenting sponsors in the Newsmakers Forum were Corbett, Duncan and Hubly PC, IIT School of Applied Technology and Marsh Inc. Corporate sponsor was American Slide Chart/Perrygraf. Event partners were the Fox Valley Chamber of Commerce, GOA Regional Business Association, Lisle Chamber of Commerce, Management Association of Illinois, Schaumburg Business Association, Small Business Advocacy Council, Tooling & Manufacturers Association and Valley Industrial Association.