WOOD RIVER — Madison County’s Employment and Training Department is the best-kept secret around, according to its executive director, David Stoecklin.
The department, which serves Madison and Bond counties, recently started an initiative called Craft Your Future, Manufacture Your Future. The enterprise is aimed at boosting awareness of job training and prospects and was launched under the 2014 Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act.
“There are a lot of exciting things going on,” Stoecklin said. “We’re in the center of the country. 50 percent of the nation’s population is within 750 miles. We have access to rivers, rails, runways and highways for transporting goods.”
In the next five years, an estimated 1,200 trades jobs and 1,500 manufacturing jobs will be opening up in Madison and St. Clair counties. Stoecklin says he wants families to know their children don’t have to leave the area to find good jobs.
“The opportunity for young folks and displaced workers to get skill sets in manufacturing and the trades has never been better,” he said.
With about 10,000 baby boomer workers — those born between 1946 and 1964 — retiring every day, the door is wide open for newly trained workers to take over some of the jobs they held.
He said Phillips 66’s $4 billion expansion was a boon to the local economy and helped cushion the area during the last downturn. This spring, the company announced it will be investing $200 million in a two-year project at the Wood River Refinery.
“There’s going to be a real need for carpenters, pipefitters and electricians,” he said. “Those jobs aren’t as seasonal as one might think.”
Stoecklin has worked in employment training for 40 years and says he’s seen a lot of changes in manufacturing.
“Manufacturing isn’t dying; it’s changing. The jobs are still there but the framework has changed. Machines have to run 24/7 and someone has to be there to run and maintain them.”
Gone are the days when a tool-and-die maker would stand over a lathe or milling machine in a loud machine shop. Today, that person is more likely to operate a variety of computer-controlled and mechanically controlled machine tools to produce those precision metal parts, instruments and tools.
Partnerships with businesses and schools to develop vocational and on-the-job training programs are an important part of the department’s initiative. Schools such as Ranken Technical College and Southwestern Illinois Community College are successful, Stoecklin said, because they produce employable graduates with needed skills.
Besides providing grants to qualified students for college and vocational training programs, the department helps several hundred clients per month with services such as career counseling, interview and resumé assistance and even clothing for job interviews. Currently, a free job search workshop is offered from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. every other Wednesday.
“All you have to do is walk in the door and ask for help,” Stoecklin said.
The department’s programs are conducted at the Wood River Southwestern Illinois Worknet Center, 101 E. Edwardsville Road, Wood River. The center is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.