From plastic juice caps to oversized hamburger props, local high school students said they were amazed to find out how many products are manufactured right here in the suburbs.
"You see parts and you don't even know who makes them," Alex Cecchi, a senior at St. Charles East High School, said Wednesday morning. "They are making products and it's going back to the community (through employment)."
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Students from school districts in northern Kane County met local manufacturing leaders at the "Manufacture Your Future" exhibit that runs through Sunday at Gail Borden Public Library in Elgin. The students also got to tour local manufacturing facilities.
It's important for high schoolers to realize the breadth of manufacturing career opportunities, said Bill Hoffer, CEO of Hoffer Plastics in South Elgin.
"Our main challenge with youth today is electronics. They are so into that that manufacturing work can seem sort of dull," Hoffer said. "But there's a lot of applications of technology in manufacturing."
Caroline Beavan, a junior at St. Charles East, said she wants to go into technology, and is considering manufacturing.
"I really liked (the exhibit) because you get a feel for all the different jobs, whether it's working on the floor or in management."
High school students can go right into a manufacturing career, which in turn can pay for their college degree, said Sylvia Wetzel, chief learning officer for St. Charles-based Bison Gear & Engineering.
Also, it's important for school districts to require students to take tests that allow them to earn a National Career Readiness Certificate, she said.
South Elgin High School seniors Eric Perkins and Jordan Croix said they, too, are considering manufacturing as a career.
The creative process is really fun, they said. "You start with a solid block and you see how it becomes a whole other part," Croix said.
Paul Belingon, a junior at St. Charles East, said he especially enjoyed finding out about Acme Design, Inc. of Elgin, which manufactures all kinds of props. "It's really cool," he said. "It kind of encouraged me to go into this specific field."
The average annual salary and benefits for manufacturing jobs was $74,400 in 2011, said James Nelson, vice president of external affairs for the Illinois Manufacturers' Association. Thousands of manufacturing jobs in Illinois will need to be filled in the years to come as baby boomers retire, he said.
"You have an opportunity to have a great career, but it's very important to find out what your passion is."
The exhibit is hosted by the library and the Elgin Development Group in partnership with Elgin Community College, Northern Kane Regional Vocational System and local business leaders.