Dee Dee Jones, Industry Coordinator for Manufacturing Renaissance works closely with companies and students to make our programs work. She is responsible for recruiting companies for field trips, job shadowing experiences, internships, and career opportunities. She also prepares students for careers in manufacturing. We asked her to share her perspective about what we do – and why our job training programs (Manufacturing Connect and the Young Manufacturers Association) are making a difference and need to be expanded.
You work with both sides – manufacturers and the young people who are looking for opportunities. Where do you start when telling people about our programs?
Manufacturers can build more, make more, and sell more if they have more labor. Youth benefit from our programs because we can help prepare them for more than just service-related jobs. There are many real jobs in manufacturing for students whether they go to college or not.
What kind of career options do young people have if they go into manufacturing?
They have a nice career ladder that can be achieved fairly quickly. Our participants are moving up pretty rapidly because they are showing interest and working hard. In recent weeks, three of our program participants have gotten promotions. There’s a job shortage in many companies, and they train people to do jobs.
How do these jobs affect communities?
The more young people are focusing on working – getting up, going to work, paying taxes, spending money – the less opportunity there is for crime.
Right now we are working with programs that are youth-related, working with young people who are exposed to the juvenile justice system, probation, the courts. We are exposing them to careers in manufacturing. We have a contract to do this for Lawrence Hall Community Services. Sometimes students will ask, “Why are they not teaching this in our schools?”
I am doing career exploration with these students. I teach interviewing skills, how to look for a job, how to present yourself, how to read check stubs. My goal is teaching them about the life of work. Students are between the ages of 14 and 21.
Why aren’t public schools offering programs that prepare students for jobs in manufacturing?
Well, first, there’s been disinvestment in underserved communities. In the poorest neighborhoods, schools are scrambling just to keep the teachers they need in house – and sometimes sharing teachers with other schools. If a program is not implanted in your school, the need for it doesn’t get reinforced. Then all you hear about is college, and the message that if you don’t go to college, you are a failure.
We used to be inside Austin High School. Young folks could see us every day. They were building a relationship with us, so they learned to trust us to help them make decisions in their life. Now that we are not inside those buildings, what would attract a young person who has no direction to us? That’s the missing piece.
We get a lot of inquiries around the city of Chicago, and we are trying to reach those who are underserved. That’s why we need more support to tap into those neighborhoods. To give those folks a chance.
We’ve learned that it takes six touches to gain the trust of a young person – a call, a group session, a meeting, and so on. They need to see you or have some kind of interaction with you to say yes. That’s what we’ve understood.
How has the program fared during the pandemic?
We haven’t done in-person job shadows or internships, but we’ve offered virtual options for program participants. We are now getting a green light for in-person field trips, so things are coming around. Next year, we hope that things will get back to normal. But the virtual space has opened our program up to have more participants in more neighborhoods. And attendance has been grown. We have also been graduating more participants, and had about 20 kids in each class.
How are you connecting to companies? What challenges do you face?
The manufacturing sector is all about time and results, and they have high expectations of labor. They are not in the business of being warm and fuzzy. I have to teach employers how to acclimate youth into their environment. We try to teach young people what to expect; we also tell employers to acknowledge young employees, though they don’t have to do that every day.
What do you think the future of these program is, if they are supported?
I truly believe that manufacturing companies want a pipeline of people who can work in this sector. There’s so much need out there, but they don’t always know how to create opportunities. That’s where we come in, since we can reach people in communities who need jobs and work with companies that are trying to fill them. We can connect the dots.
We’ve done the hard work – training, teaching hard and soft skills to young people. We’ve worked with employers. The blueprint is written – and it can be replicated anywhere.