Manufacturing leaders want to draw suburban students

 
 
Updated 10/3/2015 9:59 AM
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  • Juan Maldonado, left, an intern at Innovative Components Inc. in Schaumburg and a student at Harper College in Palatine, explains how his education and on-the-job training mesh to Illinois Department of Commerce Director Jim Schultz, center, and Innovative Components President Mike O'Connor, right.

      Juan Maldonado, left, an intern at Innovative Components Inc. in Schaumburg and a student at Harper College in Palatine, explains how his education and on-the-job training mesh to Illinois Department of Commerce Director Jim Schultz, center, and Innovative Components President Mike O'Connor, right. Eric Peterson | Staff Photographer

Gerardo Campos grew up watching his parents working backbreaking jobs nearly round the clock in Chicago.

But his family's move to Hoffman Estates when he was 14 led to graduation from Hoffman Estates High School, a semester at Harper College and then a career in manufacturing at Innovative Components Inc. in Schaumburg.

At 33, he is now operations manager for the company where 100 people report to him. Unburdened by student debt, he bought a home at 26 and married at 28.

"Manufacturing has provided a great living for me," Campos said Friday, during a public tour of the Schaumburg plant held in conjunction with Manufacturing Day 2015.

Innovative Components Inc. President Mike O'Connor and officials at the Technology & Manufacturing Association nearby in Schaumburg said Illinois' location and access to young, skilled talent make it an ideal place for manufacturing firms to locate.

If they could wish for anything, it would be for even more young people to think seriously about putting their skills to use in manufacturing.

Patrick Osborne, vice president of training & education for TMA, said while many high school students get it, one obstacle they face is parents and career counselors who have outdated notions of what manufacturing jobs are.

Today, the majority of manufacturing jobs are skilled and carry the potential of earning $100,000 a year, Osborne said. Teens tend to understand that when they're allowed to hear the message at all, he said.

TMA President Steve Rauschenberger, a former state senator, said that as strong as Illinois' position is, he tries to remind current legislators not to rock the boat by keeping the state's laws and taxes business-friendly.

"We are poised to be a hub of manufacturing," Rauschenberger said.

Innovative Components Inc. is the largest manufacturer of plastic knobs, handles and quick-release hardware in the U.S. Launched in 1993, it's been based in Schaumburg for the last 20 years, O'Connor said.

"We're not going anywhere," he said.

Half the company's product is made is Schaumburg with the other half made at a plant in Costa Rica. This combination allows the company to be competitive with Asia in its prices while ensuring the highest standards of quality control, O'Connor said.

While opening up his plant to the public for Manufacturing Day Friday, O'Connor said he regularly reaches out to high school students in the area about the possibilities his company opens up for them -- as well as the hard work required both in school and through his internships and apprenticeships.

"We've got to take kids and make them adults as fast as possible," O'Connor said of the intensive educational and training regimen.

Juan Maldonado is currently an intern at the company and a student at Harper College. He told members of the tour how the knowledge he gains from both are coming together to open up a career for him.

"I'm learning there and I'm learning here," he said.

Jobs at Innovative Components start at $40,000, but straight As are required at Harper when the company is paying the tuition, O'Connor said.

Jim Schultz, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce, presented O'Connor with a proclamation from the governor's office. But Schultz's staff required him to decline comment on his view of the state of manufacturing in Illinois.

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