Apprenticeship program top focus of Rockford-area manufacturers

Local News

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Representatives from Rockford area manufacturers met for breakfast Thursday morning to share struggles and success they’ve experienced in the local industry.

The meeting, hosted by the Rock River Valley Tooling and Machining Association at Franchesco’s Ristorante, 7128 Spring Creek Road, covered a wide-range of topics.

The group is the local chapter of a national organization.

“Our big goal here, for our association, is the apprenticeship program,” said Rockford Toolcraft President Tom Busse. “The training of the future machinists, tool and die makers, mold makers, etc.”

That’s one reason the group exists: it’s a challenge for big and small manufacturing businesses to find the next generation of qualified workers.

“A lot of times, we sit there and think that we’re facing these problems alone,” Busse said. “But when we come to these meetings and we share openly, we all really are sharing the same struggles. Whether we’re a large company or a small shop, we really face these issues the same. And, a lot of us, we can learn from each other.”

Some of the companies who participated in the roundtable discussion were competitors, but they know that if the Rockford-area industry is healthy, it’s good for all of them.

“The best part about discussions like this is the tidbits you can take away,” said Lucas Derry, president of Header Die and Tool. “‘Oh, that idea may work here, or, somebody did that. I thought of that and I see this worked for them, or that didn’t work for them.’ What works, you may want to try to practice and put into place. What doesn’t, stay away from. It can save you some potential pitfalls down the road.”

Companies clearly don’t share trade secrets, but industry-wide issues affect the whole group.

Workforce development isn’t the only issue, as Illinois’ new legal marijuana laws are adding a new concern.

“The legislation coming forward with marijuana in the workplace. What’s going to happen there?” Derry wondered. “Nobody really knows at this point in time. But, you know, what happens, we don’t know. I think there’s more to come on that.”

One of the shared messages between all of the executives is that the image of the old, dirty, noisy industry just doesn’t hold true anymore.

“If you go into some of these shops today, they’re so modern, with advanced CAD systems and robotics and CNC machine tools,” said Busse.

Rockford’s long history of making things is a reason group members think everyone should be excited about what’s happening here, and for the future.

“Rockford’s been a great community,” Derry said. “This whole area, for manufacturing, and we need to support that and continue to support it.”

Thursday’s meeting was Rock River Valley Tooling and Machine Association‘s second. More are planned in the future.

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