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Manufacturing makes up a large portion of exports in Illinois.(Information from International Trade Administration)

If Chicago sees export boom, jobs will require skilled training, experts say

by Linyi Zhang
May 16, 2012

Mayor Rahm Emanuel in April said he wanted to double exports of small and medium-sized companies in Chicago, riding a strategy that his former boss, President Obama, set as a national strategy.

For young people who are seeking jobs, “the opportunities are out there,” said Shufen Zhao, director of the international program of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce.

The mayor said the strategy would create nearly 100,000 new jobs, which pay wages that are on average 11 percent higher than domestic-only jobs.

Looking at Illinois alone, more than 145,000 jobs were directly supported by exports in 2010, according to Jeff Graber, a Chicago-based senior international trade specialist with the U.S. Department of Commerce.

“Anything to do with shipping, manufacturing and service agencies that involved an export transaction, such as banking and international trade finance, will grow,” Graber said.

Among the industries that will benefit from the export growth, manufacturing is stressed in the Obama initiative.

Manufacturing accounted for 95 percent of the total exports in Illinois and created 94 percent of export-related jobs in 2010, according to a report from U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

With large numbers of jobs  ready to be filled, Zhao advised young people to get good training to be qualified.

In Chicago, there are 100,000 jobs that remain unfilled because of skills gaps, said Lisa Hernandez, public relations director for Wright/Daley College, a community college in Chicago. She said manufacturing is one of those fields where demand is outpacing training.

“Jobs that are now being created require more skills than past manufacturing jobs,” Hernandez said. “The ability to read blueprints, and being able to measure parts with high precision is also required.”

Hernandez said that manufacturing jobs in high demand include CNC machinists, CNC milling, maintenance mechanics, and welding. City Colleges of Chicago offer variety of programs in manufacturing technology, she said.

As an important part of export, logistics is also expected to grow, Graber said.

“Logistics has always been important,” Graber added. “Anyone involved in shipping products from point A to B, you got logistics involved.”

The new Transportation, Distribution and Logistics Center at City Colleges of Chicago will offer courses in some in-demand fields such as logistics management, according to Hernandez.

Ian Savage, an economics professor at Northwestern University, said at the undergraduate level, logistics students also take courses offered by industrial engineering to obtain techniques to model supply chains. The economics department also collaborates with the school’s Transportation Center and provides coaching.