Legislators frustrated by number of unfilled high-paying jobs

Legislators frustrated by number of unfilled high-paying jobs

CHAMPAIGN — With unemployment at its lowest level since 1969 and high-wage jobs sitting empty, U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis and John Shimkus want to know why people aren't jumping at positions.

At Farnsworth Group on Friday, the legislators sat with manufacturing leaders in the area to talk about ways they can bring more technical training to high schools in the area and Parkland College. With many available jobs in delivery, manufacturing and skill trades offering high salaries, the two congressmen were frustrated to find out not many people were interested.

Shimkus said he thought it might be a cultural issue. "One of the things raised today is that people are starting the process of going into employment and then not finishing it. They're walking away after hours have been invested on them to get them ready to come to the workforce.

"What's happened to us as a society that we don't value work?" he said.

Shimkus added he has been up and down his district all month and found that the jobs are there, it's just a matter of finding people who want them.

"You can't go somewhere where they're not looking for someone," he said. "We need to start making connections between people who are passionate about getting people into the workforce and the people who need a job."

Davis said he and Shimkus are working together to bring more investments in education and workforce training. Both said the key may be to start early in high school and allow more dual-credit opportunities, not just for four-year degrees but two-year vocational degrees too.

"The jobs are available in Champaign-Urbana," he said. "The employers were in this room saying they're paying good wages and that the jobs are available all throughout my 14-county district that I serve, even in the rural portions. And if we don't do it now, when the economic growth is so high and unemployment is so low, when in the world are going to do it in this country?"

Davis said he has heard of at least one food distribution center in the rural parts of his district paying $70,000 a year on day one for truck drivers that he said "come home almost every night."

"That tells me we have to get people the education and training opportunities to be able to get them the commercial driver's license to get them to become drivers," he said. "Or other skills so they can immediately go in and start making a very, very good wage."

When asked if the reason might be that workers often feel isolated by repetitive tasks at, say, a factory job, Shimkus said those days are long gone.

"It's not the grimy, sweaty factory anymore," he said. "It's all automated; it's high tech. That isolation is going into the trash bin of history."

Shimkus added that jobs like those available today offer more opportunity to move up, like at Champion Labs in Albion.

"One of the product managers I spoke with started on the line," he said. "He did that. If people are self-motivated and say, 'I want to get more education,' a lot of these manufacturing facilities will send people back to school to get their degree and then move up. You can have those opportunities."

"There's really a simple message I'm trying to get out to the people in my district and Rodney's district," Shimkus said. "If you want a job today, you can find one."