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Need for skilled workers still prevalent

Published: Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 11:42 p.m. CDT
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(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Apprentice Adam Hoambrecker of West Dundee finishes stamping die on a milling machine Monday at Kenmode Tool and Engineering in Algonquin. Despite lingering unemployment, there are some skilled area jobs that manufacturers and others have a hard time filling. Kenmode is a manufacturer of custom precision metal stampings for the automotive, medical device, electronics and insert molding industries.

Adam Hoambrecker, 29, of West Dundee, makes a shim die that will be used inside of the Algonquin business Kenmode Tool and Engineering. The apprentice uses a mill to dull the edges so they aren’t sharp.

“We use it all the time, so you don’t want to cut your hands on it,” Hoambrecker said.

Being a machinist has always interested Hoambrecker, who is one of two apprentices working at Kenmode.

“People in manufacturing won’t take you seriously without a journeyman’s card,” Hoambrecker said. “Having the five-year apprenticeship lets the company know that you’ve had all the training. You could learn only so much in school. A lot of it is hands on.”

Finding qualified workers for skilled jobs can be difficult at times, and employers are looking for candidates with experience.

“There are people who are well experienced that unfortunately come from companies that ran into financial issues and business issues. They are considering new opportunities,” said Bob Denley, human resources director for Kenmode. “We haven’t had a lot of younger talent yet. That’s what we’re trying to generate.”

Denley said there are a limited amount of tool and die students, so companies sometimes have to compete for those young workers.

“We have been very fortunate to attract candidates who do have an interest, but they are also in great demand. There’s always a lot of competition out there,” Denley said.

At Kenmode, which makes metal stamp parts for the automotive industry and medical industry, among other fields, the apprentices are full-time employees and are working toward a certificate. Both of Kenmode’s apprentices learned about the program through Elgin Community College.

“We’re trying to [get] them up to tool and die maker status,” Denley said.

Apprentice Rob Brekke, 20 of St. Charles, has two more classes to complete at ECC. He currently works in Kenmode’s production area, and makes sure the machines are running smoothly. He said he believes tool and die makers will be in high demand.

“I think a lot of people will be retiring,” Brekke said. “There’s a lot of demand. You need people to make the dies. Without people making the dies, there’s no mass production. There’s going to be a lot of spaces to fill.”

Brian Johnson is the training director at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 117 based in Crystal Lake.

The organization has a five-year program with about 20 apprentices learning the electrical trade while working for various businesses.

During the program, the apprentices work in the field with a contractor and at night they go through classwork, and labs, Johnson said.

Johnson added apprenticeships are important.

“It goes back to the original way people learned a skill,” said Johnson, who gave the example of people who learned how to be blacksmiths.

In the five-year program, apprentices receive 8,000 hours of on the job training, and 900 hours of classroom time.

“You’re learning a trade for working with hands,” Johnson said. “You want to work with an experienced trades person and pick up on the experience and their expertise.”

McHenry County College sets up internships at businesses that partner with the school for its second-year students to help them find work after their graduation.

The school’s internships last eight to 16 weeks, said Jim Falco, the executive dean for Education, Career and Technical Education at MCC.

Workplaces include mechanics and retail stores, such as Farm and Fleet, Falco said. The students receive job training and class credit.

Students who are earning degrees in fire science or criminal justice may even work with fire protection districts or local municipalities, Falco said.

“In many cases, students are hired full-time after the training program,” Falco said.

Falco added that industrial workers are in demand, and that the automotive technicians field is exploding.

“We’re getting calls weekly for us to send them our students,” Falco said. “We can’t train them fast enough.”

Falco said these internships are usually the “capstone” course for students.

“Now they’re applying what they’re learning inside a classroom to a real job,” Falco said.

In the ever growing health care field, there are opportunities for people to get some on-the-job learning.

Centegra Health System has clinical rotations for people studying to be nurses.

The students get to give assessments of patients such as checking how their lungs sound, checking their pulses, checking blood pressure and assessing wounds, said Amy Druml, coordinator of Clinical Nursing Practice for Centegra.

Steve Osborne, who is the nurse recruiter for Centegra, said students in the clinical rotations get to shadow other nurses, observe the units, but it’s also a hands-on experience.

“It’s a win-win,” Osborne said “Nursing is so hands on, and experiential. It’s critical they have that experience.”

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