“I think companies are still cautious, but they’re starting to get going again,” said Mark Kapfer, Eastern Iowa Community College’s executive director for economic development. “But if you don’t have skills, you better get them.”
Dr. Bruce Storey, Black Hawk College’s director of educational services, agreed.
“While the unemployment rate is getting better, we’ve noticed it’s getting better for the people with degrees. Someone with a high school diploma, a GED or no work experience is having a terrible time. The AA (associate’s degree) is the new high school degree.”
The two educators said the jobs most in demand among Quad-City manufacturers are for CNC (computerized numerical control) operators, engineering technicians, welders, mechanical maintenance and electrical maintenance workers.
“If you want to be in manufacturing, the way I’d go is CNC. That’s the hot job,” Storey said. “Some people are just afraid of the math and the computers.”
Tara Barney, chief executive officer of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, said the growth in the manufacturing sector comes as companies add jobs at a modest rate.
“But they’re adding high-quality jobs and when they have a client with a specific need,” she said.
Citing data from a Quad-City laborshed study, Barney said manufacturing jobs saw an increase in the laborshed from between 73,000 and 74,000 in 2010 to “85,508 in 2012, precisely.”
The laborshed, which is much larger than the four-county metropolitan statistical area, takes in a 70-mile radius around the Quad-Cities in Iowa and Illinois from which the metro Quad-Cities draws its workforce. Barney said the laborshed also shows average annual manufacturing salaries jumped from $65,000 in 2010 to $80,000 in 2012.
But job-seekers serious about a manufacturing career will need to bring higher skills to the table — be it through associate’s degrees, apprentice programs, certificates or other training.
Tricia Rosenberg of Annawan, Ill., knows that first-hand. After pursing CNC training at Eastern Iowa Community College’s Blong Technology Center, she landed a production job at Uniparts Olsen in Eldridge.
After a couple of years of running a CNC and a lathe, she has been promoted to educational training coordinator.
“I love this. It is so hands-on and different every day,” she said.
Rosenberg, 31, trains her co-workers to read parts blueprints and to do programming, some of the same skills she teaches students at the Blong Center, where she is a part-time adjunct instructor.
“It’s not the old thinking where it used to be a boys club,” she said of the manufacturing sector. Although she followed her father into manufacturing, the industry is opening up to more women and attracting others who had once been scared away because of the thought that it was heavy lifting, she said.
At Uniparts Olsen, she said wages range from $10 to $13 an hour for manufacturing jobs and $11.50 to $14 for CNC jobs. Those with more training and experience often get hired first and earn the higher wages, she said.
Looking ahead, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates employment of manufacturing maintenance and repair workers is expected to grow 11 percent during the 2008-2018 decade.
Data from Eastern Iowa Community College indicates general maintenance and repair workers can expect median hourly wages of $16.21 an hour. Here are some of the other starting hourly wages: mechanical design technology $16.33; electromechanical systems $18.60; renewable energy systems specialist $11.78; industrial engineering technology/CNC machining $13.87; welding $12.73; and logistics/supply chain $12.33.
Additionally, Black Hawk College said these are annual salaries for other related jobs: welders, $35,000-$40,000; CNC, $40,000 and up; and engineering technician, $35,000 to $55,000 depending on the career.
“Fifty years ago, you got out of high school, went to Deere and stayed there for your whole life,” Storey said. “That doesn’t happen anymore.”