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Gilmore Foundation Grant Gives Boost To Peoria Manufacturing Job Training Effort

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Tim Shelley / WCBU
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Doug Oberhelman, former Caterpillar CEO and chairman and current chairman of the Gilmore Foundation Board of Directors, with Laura Cullinan, Gilmore Foundation president, at the Illinois Central College North Campus in Peoria on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

The Gilmore Foundation is supporting Illinois Central College's efforts to train the next wave of manufacturing workers with a $435,000 grant.

Health care is now the Peoria region's largest employment sector, but the historically-dominant manufacturing industry is still second-largest. Currently, employers say they're having difficulty filling about 10% of available jobs due to a lack of qualified employees. And that gap is only set to widen without changes, as the sector is projected to grow by more than 6% by 2025.

Illinois Central College President Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey said one of the goals of the Manufacturing Workforce Equity Initiative is making high-paying manufacturing jobs more accessible through connecting people with the right credentials — particularly for people of color.

"If we don't do something systemically to get more people through the programs and out there, the gap just gets wider," she said Tuesday at a news conference at ICC's North Campus in Peoria.

Former Caterpillar chairman and CEO Doug Oberhelman said it's vital to get people trained up to fill those open positions.

"If we don't fill it here, somebody else will," Oberhelman said. "And those jobs, those companies, will leave. And in many cases, they will leave the United States, because there's others out there that can provide the labor. And in other cases, they'll go to other regions of the country."

Over the next three years, 120 students will go through the ICC manufacturing equity program. At least two-thirds must be people of color or low income.

That includes training programs to become CNC machine operators, production welders, welding specialists, and diesel-powered equipment technicians.

Oberhelman, who now chairs the Gilmore Foundation's board, said the workforce gaps in Peoria-area manufacturing are some of the worst he's seen in some time.

"This is so critical for us in this region to fill that gap and provide an environment where people see that we have a valued workforce that is maybe even in excess — I can't imagine us getting there, but it'd be wonderful — so that we can attract more jobs. Because we have the labor supply here, locally," he said.

A lack of credentials are a barrier to job access in industries beyond manufacturing, however. Sixty percent of available jobs in the Peoria area require a credential beyond high school to qualify. But only 40% of the workforce over the age of 24 has one.

Joshua Gunn, president and CEO of the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, said he'd like to get that up to 60% fully credentialed.

"This lack of credentialing suppresses our economic growth, and leaves our uncredentialed residents struggling with many of the issues we often talk about," Gunn said. "Poverty, and the additional challenges of finding employment, and sustainable employment. So as we drive towards credentialing, we can solve a lot of our region's problems."

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