By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Manufacturing remains the top industry for the Clinton- area workforce and those employed in that field are increasingly more educated, a new report from the Iowa Workforce Development office shows.
“The industry demands an education,” Clinton Community College Academic and Career Service Advisor Marcus Harris said.
Clinton Regional Development Corp. officials commissioned the Iowa Workforce Development office to gather information about the area workforce, also known as the laborshed, in December and January. The laborshed consists of a 50-mile radius in Illinois and Iowa from which the Clinton area draws it workforce.
The number of people employed in the manufacturing industry in the Clinton area laborshed increased from 34,922 in 2010 to 38,719 in the latest study. People surveyed who identified in the manufacturing field account for 22 percent of the laborshed. Those employees have spent more time getting an education than in years past. According to the study, 11.8 percent of the manufacturing workforce has an associates degree, 3.3 percent more than the same group in 2010.
Manufacturers saw the same increase in employees who had some level of education beyond high school. Additionally, the number of those employed in the manufacturing field who had an undergraduate degree or higher also increased slightly from 17 percent to 17.6 percent.
Harris said he’s seen an influx of students who want to enter the manufacturing industry after completing their degrees at CCC. The most popular program for students trying to obtain a career in manufacturing is mechatronics, which trains them to be highly skilled electromechanical and electronics maintenance technicians.
“When the economy was at a standstill for a moment we saw an increase in students. We definitely saw a change in the number of students coming for manufacturing industries and interested in the mechatronics program,” Harris said.
According to CCC President Karen Vickers, the electronics program was revamped within the last decade to become the mechatronics program after area industry leaders made suggestions about what qualities they were looking for in employees.
“It is critical to work with industry partners,” Vickers said.
Mechatronics instructor Dave Wallace has been with CCC for 29 years. He teaches most of the classes in the program and has seen the students who complete the program move on to manufacturing jobs.
“There’s a tremendous demand for people with skills. I think they (industry leaders) want to see someone whose completed something out of high school,” Wallace said. “Students who graduate from this program have marketable technical skills, which makes a big difference. It makes a big difference in the type of jobs that are available to them.”
Brian Griep, 50, is in his second year of the mechatronics program. Griep worked as a diesel mechanic for more than 20 years before going back to school. While he had some programming experience, he lacked the knowledge of robotics and factory programming that manufacturers need.
“This program will open me to a wide field where you can get experience in robotics, general maintenance and other skills that most companies want,” Griep said. “That’s the way of the future.”
According to Wallace, about half of the students in the mechatronics program are non-traditional such as Griep, while the other half are traditional students entering from high school. With a college education under their belts, they are poised for more success than a student who enters the workforce straight from high school.
“They’ll earn more from the get-go,” Wallace said.
The increase in the number of people employed in the manufacturing field fell far short of shocking Clinton Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Nathan Sondgeroth.
“I’m not surprised by these manufacturing numbers and frankly, it’s insanely exciting because so much of America’s resurgence is going to be directly tied to the resurgence of American manufacturing,” Sondgeroth said.
While the education levels increased for this group, the average salary was severely slashed from what was reported in the previous study. In 2010, the average salary wage in the manufacturing industry was $92,500. That wage fell to $57,000, the latest report shows. This shift could be due to a variance in the people who were surveyed. In 2010, more managers and supervisors responded to questions regarding their salary. In 2012, more people in non-supervisory operations positions responded. Wages for non-salaried workers, on the other hand, saw a significant increase, moving from $14.50 an hour in 2010 to $20.50 on the cusp of 2013.
Overall, the expansion and increased education level of the manufacturing industry in Clinton translates to success for the area, Sondgeroth said.
“We are a manufacturing and agricultural base. Communities with strong, diversified manufacturing bases are in wonderful positions to grow. Look at what we make compared to other places,” Sondgeroth said. “American manufacturing is changing from mid- 20th century models. There’s going to be a focus on more highly educated workers, highly trained with technical skills in order to operate the machinery to produce.”