High schools link to manufacturing jobs

Updated 10/10/2016 8:27 AM

Looking to fill increasingly hi-tech manufacturing jobs? Take a look at your local high school.

• Mike O'Connor wants to build "a really deep bench" at Innovative Components Inc., a manufacturer of knobs, handles, lanyards and pins. He is president of the Schaumburg-based company.

• Robyn Safron is helping create "the workforce of tomorrow," younger workers who are "trained and ready to go." She is human resources manager at HydraForce Inc., a Lincolnshire company that manufactures hydraulic valves and manifolds.

"We're excited about these kids," Safron says.

What's intriguing is that both companies may have found at least a partial solution to their staffing issues in high school districts best known for their strong traditional academic programs. Standing equally tall, however, is what Township High School District 211, headquartered in Palatine, calls its applied technology curriculum -- serious manufacturing and technology career path classes.

Significant support for what to many will be a surprising number of high school programs focused on manufacturing and similar subjects comes from the Education Foundation at TMA, the Schaumburg-based Technology & Manufacturing Association. According to Associate Director Greta Salamando, the Foundation supports a variety of let's-get-schools-and-manufacturers-together programs that range from equipment donations to research.

Overall, the TMA Education Foundation says it has donated more than $1 million in machinery, software, instructors and scholarships. Among the 30-plus high school beneficiaries listed on the Foundation website are New Trier, St. Charles, Buffalo Grove, Maine East, Hersey and Niles West.

The District 211 program actually begins in junior high, when select rising eighth graders are invited to enroll in the district's Project Lead the Way Summer Engineering Academy, a 13-day course that the district says "explores engineering and architecture concepts."

PLTW, says Jan Brottman, is going into its ninth year. Brottman is career adviser at Fremd High School, in Palatine, and District 211 career adviser coordinator who this summer guided a regionwide manufacturing internship program.

Other school districts have developed similar programs, but finding them may be up to parents.

Safron notes that a parent from Palatine High School approached HydraForce seeking to encourage the company to develop an outreach to high schoolers. A similar request has come from a parent at Carmel Catholic High School, in Mundelein.

The effort can pay off. One then high school senior now in college wrote a letter that resulted in an internship HydraForce created especially for him.

O'Connor, meanwhile, is building his bench -- his company's ongoing workforce -- through the company's own Talent Development Program. "We cannot easily hire talent," O'Connor explains, "but we need to make our company grow."

O'Connor's approach is a blend of Innovative Components' summer intern program -- "211 and 214 really understand what's going on. So does Lake Park," he interjects -- and its own three-year apprenticeship program that includes a summer at Innovative Components' Costa Rica facility and, ideally, leads to a supervisory position at the company.

• © 2016 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. Listen to Jim's Business Owners' Pod Talk at www.kendallcom.com/podcast.

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