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Federal Funding to Train Advanced Manufacturing Workforce

Manufacturing is one of our region's key economic drivers. According to preliminary CMAP research, metropolitan Chicago's manufacturing cluster provided almost $40 billion in personal income last year, and the cluster is expected to grow more in the coming year. Every county in northeastern Illinois has a strong concentration of manufacturing, which includes a variety of industries, from food, to metal fabrication, to pharmaceuticals. Manufacturing is one of the region's largest employment sources, directly or indirectly employing over a half-million people.

Factories have evolved significantly over the years with the introduction of computer-based technologies. Working on a factory floor now requires strong reading comprehension, excellent math skills, and the ability to work with computers. With these changes, it is vitally important that the Chicago region train more workers to fill the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.

On September 19, 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a $500 million in grants for community colleges to expand their job training programs through partnerships with local employers. Palatine's Harper College received $12.9 million to expand its advanced manufacturing training program to 12 community colleges across the region. Harper's DOL grant focuses on preparing workers for jobs in emerging innovative industries like additive manufacturing and nanotechnology, sectors that require critical thinking and problem solving in tech-rich factories.

The success of Harper's program has been based in large part on active coordination between workforce training programs and local manufacturers to ensure that students are learning skills relevant to existing positions. Students in the program are trained on the latest technologies for industry-endorsed certificates and get to know employers through structured internships at local manufacturing firms.

This grant is precisely the type of investment for expanding successful workforce programs called for in GO TO 2040. Additionally, CMAP is at work on its second industry cluster drill-down report, which will focus on manufacturing. (Our first industry cluster drill-down report focused on freight.) To be released in early 2013, the manufacturing cluster report will provide in-depth analysis of the composition of today's manufacturing workforce and the innovations changing the cluster. The region's long-term prosperity hinges on its ability to support key economic drivers by understanding and responding to challenges and opportunities in economic engines like advanced manufacturing.