The Champaign Economic Partnership is working with local employers to find ways to attract and retain engineers, particularly for manufacturing firms.
The agency has partnered with FASTLANE, a program of the University of Dayton Research Institute, to administer surveys and develop strategies to retain talented workers in Champaign County. It’s a problem many small communities like Urbana face, particularly as older experienced engineers prepare to retire over the next five to 10 years, said Marcia Bailey, director of the partnership.
“The manufacturers have said it’s difficult sometimes to attract engineers to our area because they don’t realize the specifics of our location,” Bailey said. “Even though we’re in a small community, we have ready access to the larger cities.”
FASTLANE and the the economic partnership have developed two separate surveys, one for employers and one for engineers who work for the companies.
Once complete, Bailey said city and county leaders, along with employers can use the information to determine whether there are opportunities to attract workers to Champaign County. For example, it’s possible Champaign County has some amenities that workers are interested in but the county is doing a poor job of promoting them, Bailey said.
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It could also identify schools where local companies could look to recruit recent graduates, for example.
Local businesses raised the issue during meetings with the CEP, Bailey said.
“They are faced with recruitment to fill the gaps that already exist, but in the near future we’re going to see the engineers being age-eligible to retire,” Bailey said. “We’re trying to get ahead of that and see what we can do to market and attract engineers to our area.”
Engineers at Orbis Corp. in Urbana have a wide range of responsibilities, said Angie Brunswick, human resources manager for the company. It manufactures plastic products, including pallets, shipping containers and several other products.
That means its engineers also have to be knowledgeable about the materials used to create the products, she said. Orbis attracts workers, but it can challenging to retain them once they gain experience and often want to move to a larger community or a bigger company.
“We can get people that are interested but a lot of times it’s hard to get them to stay,” Brunswick said.
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Orbis has hired recent graduates who previously completed internships with the company. It has an extensive internship program that has helped the company attract some skilled workers, Brunswick said. Interns develop products for the company and develop extensive skills during the program.
“That’s how we’re going to get the younger generation in,” Brunswick said. “But you still have the problem retaining workers who have all the experience that you really need as a company and you need that balance.”
For workers who moved to Champaign County from other areas, one of the challenges is to get them involved in the community, Brunswick said. It’s not specific to engineering, but the Chamber of Greater Springfield is also developing a pilot program to make younger workers more aware of the opportunities available in Clark County.
The survey results will remain confidential, Bailey said, and will be used to develop engineer retention and recruitment strategies for the county.
The Springfield News-Sun provides extensive coverage of jobs and the economy in Clark and Champaign counties, including recent stories digging into local unemployment rates and changes hitting the middle class in Springfield.