Manufacturing Connect: Partnering with Chicago Public Schools

Photo of recent fieldtrip to Matot in Bellwood, IL

As Manufacturing Renaissance keeps training young people for jobs in the manufacturing sector, the organization is working to build its capacity to deliver programming in Chicago’s public schools.

That’s what has been happening early this year, as the organization takes steps to work directly with four high schools in the Chicago Public Schools system. The Renaissance’s Manufacturing Connect program is connecting with schools in person. This strategy brings the Renaissance closer to students and instructors in schools, where students have often typically received little or no information about or training in the manufacturing sector in recent years.

“Schools recognize that they have a bigger role to play as we expose more students to opportunities in the manufacturing sector,” says Erica Staley, Executive Director of Manufacturing Renaissance. “High schools should be the natural location where students can learn about and get preparation for post-secondary activities. The whole ‘college for all’ idea is insufficient by itself to meet the wide diversity of abilities, interests and opportunities needed by and accessible to young people today.”

Manufacturing Renaissance, Staley adds, “is very well-suited to partner with schools and help lead to new opportunities.”

Sarah Mercado, Director of Career Pathway Services at Manufacturing Renaissance, says that providing job training services in the schools Is part of a dialogue that is already happening. “People in the education sector are seeing that we need something different,” she says. “It’s about providing options. We’re not interested in replacing the public education system or higher education programs. We are interested in inclusion and making sure that people are not unnecessarily excluded from a stable sector that has upward mobility.”

Manufacturing Connect is a nationally recognized career pathways program for in-school teens. The program creates and expands the linkages between communities, social service agencies, schools and the manufacturing sector.

This year, the program will be engaged directly with at least four schools: Achievement Scholastic Academy and Marshall High School on the city’s west side, and Bogan High School and Sarah E. Goode STEM Academy on the city’s south side. Thus far this year, a total of about 40 students have participated in activities through this program.

The need for these programs is great. “We’re trying to increase the number of schools and students we can reach,” says Mercado.

Mercado adds that the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council of Manufacturing Renaissance is also taking steps to convene educators in the workforce development training space through the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council – educators who demonstrate the need for stronger policies to create opportunities for young people.

This current and growing effort has a strong legacy. For many years, the Renaissance offered training at the Austin Polytechnical Academy. That experience demonstrates the organization’s longstanding track record of building diverse partnerships in dynamic circumstances.

In the Schools

At the moment, Manufacturing Renaissance program coordinators are assigned to cohorts in schools, where they implement a program that includes work readiness and technical training components.  Mercado notes that there is a growing emphasis on soft skills, like preparing students for interviews and applying for jobs, that complement the technical skills needed to succeed in the sector.

Students, however, can also benefit from a range of services through growing partnerships the program has forged with other agencies and institutions. One example is the program’s partnership with Daley College Manufacturing Technology and Engineering Center, which exposes youth to resources at the City Colleges of Chicago. Many students may also need wraparound services that social service agencies in the community can provide.

Example: Marshall High School

One example of how this partnership is working is happening at Marshall High School in the East Garfield Park neighborhood on Chicago’s west side. Last September,  74 students from Marshall High School attended the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS), which was held by the Association for Manufacturing Technology in Chicago. Staff from Manufacturing Renaissance led students and chaperones from Marshall High School at the event.

Tiffany Jones, the instructional coach at the school, is working closely with Manufacturing Renaissance.  “When I started here last March, the first thing I noticed is that we didn’t have a lot of pathways for students who didn’t want to choose college. The majority of our population is not likely to go to college, so they really need opportunities that will help lead to jobs. Now, we are working with Manufacturing Renaissance, and our students have access to more technical and life skills training.”

Jones points to the potential of job shadowing, goal-setting, and various hard skills and soft skills activities that can inspire students. Thus far, the program has offered hour-and-a-half sessions at the end of four school days a week for ten seniors, though it could be expanded to juniors in the future.

Meanwhile, Jones is enthusiastic about how the program can reach students at Marshall. “The word is spreading,” she says. “Manufacturing can give our students an option for well-paying jobs. Our students are facing real life challenges, and this program can make a difference.”

Dan Baron