An Engineering Roundtable: How Does Engineering Contribute to the Rockford Economy?

Aug 06, 2018

By: Meaghan Ziemba, Content Marketing Manager, AME

Horst Schedler (center) of Hennig, Inc., and Paul Von Driska (right) of Bergstrom discuss the negative impacts that retirements have had on their engineering teams. Photo Credit: Northwest Quarterly

Northwest Quarterly recently hosted a 2018 Engineering Roundtable that focused on the role engineering plays in the Illinois region.

Horst Schedler, Director of Research and Development of Advanced Machine & Engineering’s (AME) sister company, Hennig, Inc., joined the engineering roundtable with several other manufacturing and engineering leaders from the Rockford area.

Participants were asked:

  • What does engineering provide your organization?

  • What competitive advantages do skilled engineers provide?

  • What are the advantages to the Rockford area in having a concentrated engineering workforce?

  • What are some of the advantages and challenges you face when recruiting engineers to this region?

  • What regions in particular are stiff competition?

  • Where does our region stand in terms of the 7:2:1 ratio?

  • In regards to “growing your own”, about what percentage of your employees are involved with internships?

  • To what extent does “brain drain”impact the engineering side of your business?

What does engineering provide your organization?

Each participant of the engineering roundtable expressed the importance that the role of engineering played in their organizations’ success rate. Engineers are involved with the full product life cycle -- from research and development to testing to production. Engineers define the problem, design the solution for that problem, and distribute the final product to the customer.

What competitive advantages do skilled engineers provide?

The knowledge and experience that engineers provide each organization sets them apart from their toughest competition. They even help bring up the next generation of engineers by sharing their own experiences in the field. It is their expertise that plays an integral part in the production of high quality solutions that push the edge of physics-based designs.

What are the advantages to the Rockford area in having a concentrated engineering workforce?

All of the participants at the engineering roundtable agreed that designing and production is a lot easier if there are local services that they can personally drive to and physically see the part. The great manufacturing infrastructure that exists in the the Rockford area makes communication easier and reduces lead and response times.

On the academic side of things, local education institutions are developing curriculum in partnership with local engineering and manufacturing companies to provide hands-on experience for students. This education interaction helps develop life-long career opportunities among an elite network between students and their family members.

Developing more engineers in the community increases the chance of more engineering companies wanting to move here.

What are some of the advantages and challenges you face when recruiting engineers to this region?

The biggest challenge that most of the participants of the roundtable faced when recruiting was finding candidates with the right skill set -- especially one with experience. Once they do find the right talent, the question becomes: How do we get them to Rockford? Competitive rewards, beyond base salary, is required to be able to compete on a national basis.

What regions in particular are stiff competition?

The answer to this question was split between aerospace and automotive. A lot of the participants brought up the challenge in recruiting that they were experiencing, and losing strong candidates for available positions to other areas.

Where does our region stand in terms of the 7:2:1 ratio?

Most agreed that a successful engineer in this region should have an above-high-school education with technical capabilities. However, for engineers to remain successful, continued educational opportunities are a must.

The new level of technology that is coming into the market -- automation, the Industrial Internet of things (IIOT), and robotics -- requires a new level of education. Those who can fix things and keep them running need mechanical skills, electrical skills, and an understanding of automation, maintenance, and computer controls.    

In regards to “growing our own”, about what percentage of your employees are involved with internships?

Several of the organizations discussed their available apprenticeship and internship programs connected to Rock Valley College, Rockford University, and the Rock River Valley Tooling and Machining Association (RRVTMA). Students can earn an education and receive hands-on experience that will make them confident in an work environment after graduation.

These types of programs and learning opportunities close the manufacturing skills gap and strengthen the state of manufacturing in the United States.

How are certain organizations changing the local perception of Rockford and how is this impacting your organizations?

Organizations like Transform Rockford bring the leaders of the community together to improve the overall quality of the region. They are also developing opportunities for K-12 students that provide hands-on learning experiences in various trades. Transform Rockford’s efforts also help to attract workers from elsewhere.

To what extent does “brain drain” impact the engineering side of your business?

Most participants of the engineering roundtable agreed that engineering is a vital component to their day-to-day processes and to a thriving economy. They also acknowledged some of the challenges they face when recruiting and maintaining skilled workers. They all agreed that cooperation and collaboration between companies, community organizations, and educational institutions is important to develop and shape workers of tomorrow.

How important is engineering to your organization? What challenges so you face when recruiting new talent from the local region and beyond? Comment below or join our conversation on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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