Manufacturing Connect: Participants Hopeful as They Finish the Program

As the school year ends this year, participants in the Renaissance’s 12-week Manufacturing Connect program had a milestone to celebrate – the successful completion of this nationally recognized career pathways program.

Twenty-one students from 11 different high schools who completed the technical training course participated in an in-person event on May 18 at Daley College. Eighteen students also earned a nationally recognized industry credential from the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS). Students had the opportunity to tour the Daley College Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, be presented with their certificates, and announce what they plan to do after graduation.

“We are very proud of our graduates, who are working to incorporate what they’ve learned for career-track jobs in the manufacturing sector,” said Erica Staley, executive director of Manufacturing Renaissance.

We asked a few participants to share their perspective about their experience in the program, which teaches key skills that young people  will need to succeed in the manufacturing sector. The program focuses on technical skills like how to read a blueprint as well as interviewing and other skills program participants need as they apply for jobs in manufacturing.

The students we talked to are set to graduate high school in June and spoke about how the Manufacturing Connect program has helped them prepare for the future.

Reflections on the program and thoughts about what’s next

Jeremiah Hall

Jeremiah Hall, who is graduating from the Academy of Scholastic Achievement on Chicago’s  West Side, said the program not only prepared him for the workforce, but that the Renaissance has helped connect him to a local manufacturer for a job interview.

He also singled out how he learned to take accurate micrometer readings through the program.

The program, he says, also put him in a better position to meet future goals, including buying a car and finding his own place to live. Hall reflected on what many in the program have shared – that Manufacturing Connect provides an alternative to life in a community that is often impacted by violence. “I love my neighborhood,” he says. “I don’t want to say that it’s too violent. But it’s violent enough where I hear gunshots, and I don’t want to be hearing that.”

Hall  says his favorite part of the program was an internship in which participants designed a project for the Nike  company. “I learned about shipping this project, and about designing shoes. “

Down the road, Hall says he would be interested in a welding job with a manufacturer.

What would he say to high school students about Manufacturing Connect? “I would try to convince them to join,” he says. “They’re trying to help you with life after high school.”

David Curry

David Curry, who is graduating from Harlan Community Academy on  the city’s South Side, says he left the program doing something he hadn’t anticipated before he started it – applying for two jobs in the area, one of which is at a construction company.

For Curry and the overwhelming majority of students in public schools, the reality is that there are few opportunities in the system to learn skills needed for jobs in the manufacturing sector. Even though research conducted by the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois Chicago has shown that there are as many as 58,000 manufacturing jobs in the Chicago region that need to be filled – quality jobs, with benefits – students typically can’t learn these skills in their high schools because programs that would teach them are so hard to find.

For Curry, though, learning specific technical skills or how to interview for  a job, were not the only thing he learned through the Manufacturing Connect program. “For me,” he says, “learning how to speak up and ask questions really made a difference.”

He adds that the program opened his eyes to opportunities in the field. “When I first started the program, I didn’t know much about how many different opportunities there in the manufacturing in so many areas –  food, clothing, furniture, buses, and more,” he says.

What would he tell the next wave of high school students about the program? “They should definitely consider it. Why not?  It certainly helped me.”

Yazmin Barajas

As she completed the Manufacturing Connect program, Yazmin Barajas reflected that she learned basic skills in the program like how to take measurements, and ultimately earned certification from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills. Meanwhile, she also had valuable conversations with Manufacturing Renaissance Industry Coordinator DeeDee Jones about her work and education goals.

“I’ve learned that I don’t have to limit myself,” she says. “I got a glimpse of how many different things I can do in this sector.”

Barajas, who graduates from Institute of Science Academy on the city’s South Side in June, says that after she gets a job she  plans to move out of her family’s home and get a car. “Because of this program and the confidence I’ve gained, I feel I will be able to do that.”

She emphasized how much she appreciated her experience participating a group project. “My group was focused on LGBTQ marketing for a team project to sell shoes,” she says. “We created a PowerPoint project, and I was manager of the  project. I know that I’ll be part of a team in a job, and interacting with classmates really helped me learn about teamwork.”

“I look forward to what’s next,” she says. “Manufacturing Connect has taught me basic skills, how to look for a  job – and that I can do this!”

-Dan Baron