Harper, manufacturers team up to build $1.5 million lab
Harper College broke ground Monday on a new, $1.5 million laboratory where students in its innovative Advanced Manufacturing Program will train for careers in mechatronics/automation, precision machining, metal fabrication and supply chain management/logistics.
The 6,000-square-foot facility on the college's Palatine campus is being funded in part through a $500,000 grant from the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association. When completed in the fall, it will double the size of the college's current manufacturing lab.
Launched in 2012, Harper's Advanced Manufacturing Program has won national acclaim for creating a unique partnership between the school and the manufacturing industry to prepare students for jobs in the increasingly high-tech field.
At the time of the program's creation, experts said Illinois companies alone had 80,000 skilled manufacturing jobs they couldn't fill because there were not enough capable workers. According to research from Deloitte and The Manufacturing Institute, the U.S. faces a shortage of nearly 2 million manufacturing workers over the next decade.
The program offers students industry-endorsed skills certificates and paid internships with 75 local manufacturers. Shortly after its launch, Harper received a $13 million federal grant to expand its practices statewide.
The program caught the attention of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, which had been looking for a way to enhance its workforce.
"Two years ago the chairman of the FMA board of directors challenged us to develop a new way for the association to create a workforce solution for our industry that would have a positive impact for a large number of member companies," said Ed Youdell, FMA president and CEO. "Establishing a stand-alone FMA University would have been cost prohibitive. Through discussions with Harper College, we found that partnering with an established program would be both cost-efficient and give us a speed-to-market advantage."
The expanded facility will train up to 600 students annually, and house state-of-the-art equipment such as lasers, turrets, press brakes, and robotic welders. Some of the equipment will be donated by FMA members.
The $500,000 FMA grant has a unique structure: $400,000 will be released over the next five years, contingent on enrollment benchmarks, and $100,000 will go to manufacturing students who qualify for the Harper Promise Scholarship. The Promise Scholarship guarantees area students up to two free years of tuition if they get solid grades, have good attendance, don't repeat classes and perform community service during all four years in high school.
"It's a unique approach," said Youdell. "The college has to grow the program in order to take full advantage of the grant and the timed disbursements will keep the association actively engaged in the process."
Harper College President Dr. Ken Ender said such partnerships are needed to solve the shortage of skilled workers.
"By working together, we can ensure that our local manufacturers have the highly trained workforce they need to compete in a 21st century global economy," he said.