MIDDLE CLASS IN DECLINE - Middle class jobs abundant here

DeWayne Bartels

While some say the middle class may be disappearing, in the local job market there is good news about the middle class.

Those in the know say there is no shortage of middle class jobs in Central Illinois, defined as those paying $20/hr. or more.

The good news

Ben Brewster, a business services team leader, for the Workforce Network in Peoria, said training opportunities abound.

Brewster said, despite what local residents might believe, plenty of middle-class jobs exist in manufacturing and  the trades, Brewster said.

He is backed up by the 2007 “State of the Workforce Report” created by the Central Illinois Workforce Board and Dawn Gries, a career services advisor, at ICC.

The State of the Workforce Report  found from June 2006 to June 2007, the following local industries saw an increase in employment: manufacturing (.3%); financial activities (1.2%); professional and business services (.5%); educational and health services (1.3%), government (.5%) and other services (1.3%).

Trade, transportation and utilities, and construction and mining remained constant.

“The Central Illinois region can anticipate an ongoing expansion for workforce opportunities in health care, engineering, small business, advanced manufacturing and service industries such as hospitality and retail sales.

“New, emerging sectors include logistics and technology commercialization,” the report said.

Health care, Brewster said, offers huge opportunities.

Gries added that good-paying jobs also exist in the accounting field, as well as the trades.

She said demand is especially high for welders, electricians, heating and air-conditioning and diesel mechanics.

But, Brewster said, locally manufacturing is still king in terms of middle class job opportunities.

“A lot of manufacturing companies locally are implementing their own training programs in order to provide the training needed to run today’s computerized machinery,” Brewster said.

“Manufacturing is far from dead around here ... Manufacturing has just changed. Developing countries need lots of equipment, and we have companies here to fill that need. And, they need trained people.”

Another area of great potential, according to Brewster, is the trades. The need for welders and electricians is especially high, he said.

“Kids coming out of high school who are not on the college track are surprised to find out what’s available, and what it pays.”

Brewster said Advanced Technology Services in Peoria, which provides managed services of production equipment maintenance, industrial parts repair and IT solutions, has created its own training program.

“Kids leaving high school are entering their program. After two years they walk out the door earning $18/hr. to start.,” Brewster said.

“To move up to that $20/hr. threshold won’t take long.” 

The education factor

But, as with much news concerning the middle class, that good news is  part of a mixed-bag.

While job prospects are healthy, there is a shortage of people qualified to fill those jobs.

“The issue is continuing education,” Brewster said.

“We re-train people to take those jobs. Many of the people we see coming in have only a high school diploma.”

Education, Brewster said, is the key to landing these jobs.

The 2007 “State of the Workforce Report” stated: “Our challenge is to ensure that we have the talent pool to support and maintain industries such as these in the community. In order to do this, we must work together not only to attract and retrain current talent, but develop a pipeline of new talent to guarantee that our region prospers.”

The need is so great because as baby boomers retire a talent deficit is expected.

That deficit, Brewster said, extends beyond just hard skills such as math and written communication.

“We see issues with soft skills, such as arriving at work on time,” he said.

“That’s a tough one to deal with. We have counselors who work on that.”

According to the publication, “Are They Really Ready to Work? Employers’ Perspectives on the Basic Knowledge and Skills of Entrants to the 21st Century U.S. Workforce,” employers want workers with math and reading comprehension; written communications; critical thinking/problem solving; and professionalism/work ethic.

These skills are so badly needed because, the report said, new technical information is doubling every two years, and new technical information is predicted to double every 72 hours by 2010.

“Education,” Brewster said, “it’s a never-ending process.”