Photo Caption: Whiteside Economic Development Director Gary Camarano presents a check for the NIU Senior Project to Jon Bonnell, President of Bonnell Industries. Present, from left to right, are Ray Ziganto NIU, Michele Barkley SVCC, Josh West SVCC, Gary Camarano WCED, Joe Bonnell, President Bonnell Industries, Jason Grimes and Jeremy Hall, Engineers, Bonnell Industries.
Morrison, IL — The last few years haven’t been easy years for Northwest Illinois manufacturers, and 2022 will get even more challenging. Workforce challenges have been, and remain one the biggest challenges facing employers in Northwest Illinois, and if the region’s manufacturers are to remain competitive this problem needs to be addressed.
With a generation filled with skills entering retirement, an outflow of talented young students and workers, and the ever-present skills gap, our region’s manufacturing industry is witnessing a labor shortage that may continue into the year 2025 and beyond. While our manufacturers have teamed up with the region’s educational institutions and economic development organizations, and developed programs such as the Sauk Valley Multicraft Extended Internship Program (MEIP), Morrison Tech’s Innovation Center and The Whiteside Area Career Center (WACC), additional programs are being created and explored to assist in workforce training, retention and attraction.
A newly formed collaboration between Northern Illinois University’s (NIU) School of Engineering and Engineering Technology, IMEC Illinois, Sauk Valley Community College (SVCC) and Whiteside County Economic Development (WCED) is bringing the talents of NIU senior engineering students to bear on challenges facing manufacturers. Teams of three NIU students, a graduate teaching assistant and faculty advisor are assigned to manufacturers and are involved in creating or improving commercial products or industrial processes through engineering design. Students gain hands-on, real-world experience while bringing the latest classroom knowledge and theories to construct a prototype or process.
SVCC and WCED are contributing a portion of the funding for the Senior Design Project in the Northwest Illinois Region, and looking to sponsor teams with local students working at a local manufacturer. On Monday, November 15, 2021, Josh West, Academic Dean of Business, Career, and Technical Programs at SVCC, and Gary Camarano, WCED Director, presented Joe Bonnell, President of Bonnell Industries in Dixon, with a check for $5,000 to partially cover the expense of a Senior Design Project
at Bonnell. Bonnell Industries is a 62-year-old local firm manufacturing truck, snow removal and road maintenance equipment.
Mr. Bonnell said, “The Senior Design Project is a great resource for a company our size. The team will work with us in developing an innovative product that will provide a solution for our customers, and position Bonnell to better meet the competitive environment we are in. This also gives us a look at promising talent that could become part of the Bonnell team in the future.”
Mr. West commented, “We are really excited to be able to provide our local manufacturers with workforce assistance, and to see SVCC graduates who are completing their BS in Engineering at NIU come back to the region and be part of this assistance. Additionally, this project allows us to show our engineering students what a design project would look like at their four-year institution. SVCC is committed to local workforce development, and this is one example of that commitment.”
Ray Ziganto, Manufacturing Director at NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology added, “The Senior Design Project is a fantastic way for our students to gain hands-on experience while applying what they’ve learned to real-world problems facing our region’s manufacturers. The program is getting rave reviews from both students and manufacturers, and we’re looking to expand the program, and attract more manufacturers. IMEC Illinois, Sauk Valley Community College and Whiteside County Economic Development are helping us find manufacturing partners in Northwest Illinois, and our senior students are raring to meet the engineering challenges.”
Mr. Camarano said, “We’re looking to help manufacturers with a valued added short-term project and provide students with an enhanced learning experience that will hopefully end with a talented engineering graduate entering our local workforce. It’s really a win-win-win situation for our manufacturers, the students, and the region.”
Manufacturers interested in learning more about the Senior Design Project program, and how they can participate should contact Ray Ziganto, Manufacturing Director, Northern Illinois University College of Engineering at firstname.lastname@example.org or (630) 215–6928, or Josh West, Academic Dean of Business, Career, and Technical Programs at SVCC, email@example.com or 815-835-6334.