Manufacturing has seen a surge of economic growth lately, but the industry is growing faster than it can find employees to fill the gap.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis stopped by Bloomington-Normal on Thursday to tour the Bridgestone plant in Normal and discuss the need to invest in workforce training opportunities.
“Manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence, but we have a workforce problem,” Davis said. “We have historic low unemployment and a historic high government benefit usage. We ought to be able to invest tax dollars in Washington to help get people the training they need for the jobs that are available.”
Last year Davis introduced the LEAP Act along with U.S. Reps. Dan Lipinski, D-Chicago, and Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon. Davis said he's trying to build enough pressure to get it onto the House floor.
The bill would offer tax incentives to encourage more companies to offer apprenticeship programs. It focuses on tax incentives to hire younger apprentices, but it would also incentivize companies to hire older apprentices, with a smaller tax break.
Davis said demand for Bridgestone’s products is up because there is more mining in the United States, but his goal now is to help companies train people to take the jobs that will soon become available to meet the demand.
“That means more jobs in Bloomington-Normal, but (Bridgestone has) the same problem that Caterpillar in Decatur has,” Davis said. “They don’t have the applicants coming in to take those jobs. Those are things we’re going to work on together in Washington.”
Davis also said too many students are pushed to attend a four-year university when joining the workforce may suit them better and save them from potentially coming out of college with a lot of student debt, sometimes without having completed their degrees.
“There’s not going to be less demand for people going to four-year institutions,” Davis said. “A lot of times, it’s the kids who aren’t going to go to (Illinois State) or to (Illinois) Wesleyan, who have no intention of going, that ought to be able to have access to workforce training opportunities to be able to get trained for jobs that are available, like the ones here at Bridgestone.”
Davis said he hopes companies like Bridgestone will work with local educators to present high school graduates with opportunities in the trades.
Bridgestone currently employs over 400 people in Bloomington-Normal area.
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