Mfg Day 2021: An Inside Look

What’s it like to work in a manufacturing company? What kind of opportunities are available? These are the kinds of questions asked by participants in Manufacturing Connect, Manufacturing Renaissance’s program that exposes, inspires, and prepares young adults for the field.

Participants in the program had a chance to learn about the field this fall at Manufacturing Day 2021, a virtual event that introduced students to life at two local companies.

Students learned about manufacturing at HM Manufacturing, a power transmission components facility located in an industrial park in Wauconda, IL, and Freedman Seating, a company on Chicago’s West Side that manufactures seats and seating-related products for many different applications. Freedman Seating has been a family-owned and operated company for more than 125 years. Training provider Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) which is housed at Freedman Seating, also presented its perspective to participants at the event. JARC offers programs that include training for anyone interested in being a welder and learning how to operate and program CNC machines.

DeeDee Jones, Industry Coordinator for Manufacturing Connect, which serves 11th and 12th graders in Cook County, said to participants in the event  that “we celebrate Manufacturing Day to expose the youth to career opportunities to what manufacturing is, as well as training – how to get involved and how to secure career opportunities in manufacturing. We want you to see the inside of a manufacturing company so you can understand exactly what it is.”

Both events shared a consistent message about the world of manufacturing: Not only are there jobs in the field, but there are jobs that can lead to many different types of career opportunities.

HM Manufacturing

Nicole Wolter, President and CEO of HM Manufacturing, emphasized that “what we do is not your old-school manufacturing. “Many young people work here, and we’re always innovating, purchasing new equipment and software,” she said. Wolter showed how one machine shears off bacon so it fit into packaging, while another created part of a drone for the military.

Wolter shared with participants in the event that the company makes products for aerospace, defense, and medical components. “We make anything that goes into a gear box or conveyor belt system.”

One employee shared that “Manufacturing is an excellent choice for anyone looking to get out and start work right away. You get to make some cool stuff and learn how it comes together.” Another said he came to the company nine years ago and is now a production manager.

Jones added that “this industrial park [where HM Manufacturing is located] is flooded with companies that are looking to hire young people that want to work, are curious, and want an opportunity to succeed. That is what it takes.”

While many high schools will emphasize the path of a four-year college program for students, there’s certainly another path, said one participant in a panel that followed a virtual tour of the company. “I knew that coming out of high school that college was not the right step for me,” said the employee, who heads a computer-assisted design department at HM Manufacturing. “I figured I needed to find somewhere to put my skills to good use, so manufacturing was really so great for that. It’s hands-on learning. That was perfect for me.”

Freedman Seating

John-Paul Paonessa, Marketing Manager at Freedman Seating, shared that there are “many different job opportunities” at the company, which traces its roots back to the world’s fair held in Chicago in 1893.  During a video tour of the company, he showed laser-operating, press, assembly, and tube-cutting machines. Later, he shared that there are many benefits for employees at the company, including tuition reimbursement.

One employee, Deandre Smith, graduated from the Manufacturing Renaissance program while he was a high school student in Chicago’s Austin community. “I really didn’t know if I wanted to go into manufacturing,” he says. “Thanks to Manufacturing Renaissance I was able to get an opportunity to come into manufacturing and learn. Once I came here – I worked in packaging at first – I decided there was room for growth. I like a challenge.” Now, Smith is an assembler for the company, building transportation seating in accordance with blueprints and instruction booklets. He has been working at Freedman Seating for almost five years.

He also shared a personal perspective for students who participated in Manufacturing Day. “I was a teenager once like you guys,” he said. “I wanted to make money and get it the right way. I chose to work and it paid off.” He added that “I was able to take care of myself, and purchased my own home.”

“This could be you,” Jones said to participants in the event. Jones added that learning is a lifelong activity for those in the manufacturing field. “Training leads to other training,” she said. “You’re going to be training for the rest of your life.”

Dan Baron