Task force on ‘future of work’ a ‘missed opportunity’ says manufacturing advocate | Illinois

(The Center Square) – Business and labor leaders across the state have been meeting to address the loss of middle wage jobs with mixed results.

The group of lawmakers, business and union representatives and researchers called the Illinois Future of Work Task Force released a report with policy recommendations to fix a growing polarization in the state’s job market; However, many business interests at the table were not happy with the report.

The report asserted the decline in middle-wage jobs is partly due to a decrease in manufacturing in the state, but Sarah Hartwick, vice president of Education and Workforce Policy for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, said this isn’t true.

“Manufacturing in Illinois has increased in recent years, and it was really unfortunate that the task force report didn’t focus on that piece, which is why the business communities voted against the report,” she told The Center Square.

Hartwick said the task force missed a huge opportunity with key stakeholders at the table.

“The process was just so disappointing because there were presentations, but there was no time for discussion, and that is really where the important work should have been done,” she said.

In Illinois, manufacturing is the economy’s single biggest employer with a workforce of over 556,000, according to Hartwick. Most are middle-wage jobs.

Even if all people able to work were working, there would still be unfilled positions, she said, noting manufacturing needs to figure out how to make its jobs appeal to workers.

While the report’s policy recommendations weren’t egregious, Hartwick said the policy recommendations were partisan and anti-business.

Of the recommendations, the need for more child care was stressed, Hartwick pointed out, while things like education and training incentives were ignored.

“There was not enough attention paid to the skills gap,” she said. “Employers are saying there is a significant skills gap in math, reading and even the essential soft skills.”

There are things K-12 school districts and community colleges can do to support and influence the future of Illinois’ workforce, she said.

Hartwick notes what kind of impact the report has will depend on what the legislature does with it.

Supporters of the report asserted it was a valuable effort toward ensuring quality jobs will be available to all.

“I am proud to have worked alongside experts from growing industries, labor and government to produce a comprehensive plan to build a people-centered economy for our state,” Sen. Ram Villivalam, D-Chicago, a co-chair of the task force, said, as reported by the State Journal-Register.


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