Ashley Cook will serve as the business liaison for the Champaign Economic Partnership. She will coordinate activities that bring educators, students and manufacturers together. JEFF GUERINI/STAFF

Champaign County economic group creates new position to link students to local manufacturing jobs

The Champaign Economic Partnership has created a new, part-time position to better connect students in Champaign County with opportunities at area businesses.

Ashley Cook will serve as a business liaison as part of a larger effort to identify potential workers for the county’s manufacturing industry. The CEP is a nonprofit focused on economic development in Champaign County.

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“Some of our students need to be informed of these positions,” Cook said.

Cook said the position will entail meeting with human resources staff at local companies like KTH Parts Industries in St. Paris and Rittal North America, LLC. The idea is to get a better idea of what positions need to be filled and whether local students might have an opportunity to get started exploring a career in manufacturing, she said. Cook could also work with local companies to develop internship opportunities and connect with local school district staff members to make them aware of the kinds of jobs that are available.

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Debbie Wortman, Satellite director at the Ohio Hi-Point Career Center in Bellefontaine, said it’s possible Cook’s position could expand into a full-time job if it is successful.

“There’s been a disconnect in the past of people not understanding what manufacturing today is like,” Wortman said.

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Economic officials in both Clark and Champaign Counties have made efforts in recent years to provide better links between students and local companies as one way to retain younger workers in the area.

The CEP previously worked with local companies to host a manufacturing day, allowing students from local school districts to tour manufacturing sites to learn more about jobs in the industry. Those tours will likely continue but might be spread out over the entire school year, said Marcia Bailey, economic development coordinator for the CEP.

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Instead, local districts will host a design challenge in which engineers from area manufacturing firms will work with students to design a product. Teams will compete first within their school and then against other districts, Bailey said.

“It will be similar to a science fair where the teams will compete internally and then advance to the “county” judging with a manufacturing tradeshow,” Bailey said.

The challenge continues throughout October with county judging in early November at Urbana University.

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