Local and federal lawmakers from the Chicago area on Monday discussed how to strengthen the manufacturing industry in the region.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was joined by Congressmen Danny Davis and Raja Krishnamoorthi at a discussion hosted by the Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council, a regional partnership of organizations that promote the industry.
The lawmakers stressed the need for stronger career and technical education in schools, as well as getting the word out about the robust sector.
“There are real opportunities for young people, and particularly, frankly, in communities of color, we need to be focused on the importance of manufacturing jobs and not have our young people sort of default into the service industry,” Preckwinkle said during the panel discussion, which was held at the Chicago Teachers’ Union headquarters.
Krishnamoorthi said schools should boost their career and technical education programs for students who choose not to go to college, so that they can be prepared to enter careers in manufacturing and other trades. He added that early exposure to those career paths is also important.
“Data shows that parents and students are making up their minds about career choices as young as fifth grade,” said Krishnamoorthi, who represents Illinois's 8th Congressional district in Chicago's northwest suburbs.
“Our public education systems are failing,” said Davis, citing the lack of basic reading and math skills that prevent students from entering fields like manufacturing.
Davis also recalled how his 7th Congressional district, which includes much of Chicago’s West Side, lost hundreds of manufacturing jobs when companies closed or moved out of the city.
“Many of the jobs that still exist are outside the urban inner-city communities,” Davis said, citing how companies choose areas with lower taxes and minimum wage requirements. “Somehow or another, we’ve got to make sure that the opportunities match the needs, and the need is where the opportunities are.”
WBEZ reported in October on the barriers keeping residents of Chicago’s South and West sides from the available manufacturing jobs. The hurdles include a skills gap, transportation challenges, and the image problem manufacturing is facing that is keeping applicants at bay.
WBEZ also reported on the significant impact of manufacturing job losses to Chicago’s black communities, particularly on the West Side, as well as the struggles of the city’s more than 30-year-old effort to maintain manufacturing’s presence in Chicago.
Esther Yoon-Ji Kang is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her on Twitter @estheryjkang.