Program Highlights: Towards Expanding a Manufacturing Ecosystem

Manufacturing Renaissance completed its Career Pathway Services program year over the summer, concluding a dynamic period stretching September of 2020 through August 2021. Career Pathway Services consists of two program models: Manufacturing Connect (serving high school seniors) and Young Manufacturers Association (serving young adults 18-24). Though trainings were held online during the pandemic, data show the continued persistence and positive outcomes of our work. At the same time, our experience in the last year also reinforced key points about what makes this work successful in the long haul.


  • Career Awareness Outreach and Recruitment: Our team organized career exposure and training opportunities in which 351 youth and young participated in remote activities.
  • Industry Credentials: Over the year, 84% of our trainees successfully earned an industry credential from the National Institute of Metalworking Skills.
  • Getting the Job, Keeping the Job: Program graduates who chose to pursue a career-track job in manufacturing are retaining the job for an average of 14 months earning $16.11/hour plus benefits.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic we offered program activities online, including facility tours, manufacturing information sessions and guest speakers. While we look forward to resuming in-person career exposure and work experience activities, we were proud to continue to serve community members who might not otherwise have access to career pathways programming that increase access to career-track employment in manufacturing – and how to navigate one’s way through the workplace. For a complete report on program outputs and outcomes, click here..

Long-Term Commitment

While a dramatic “success story” of a participant overcoming hurdles and finding full-time employment may grab a headline, it’s often the smaller day-to-day successes that add up and really impact a program participant’s life. The story, of course, is that this is long-term work. “It’s wonderful when an immediate light bulb goes off, but really that’s often not the case,” says Executive Director Erica Staley.

The common thread is that the Renaissance’s team is there for participants over the long-term. That is the case when the Renaissance first informs a prospective participant about the program. It’s also true when an instructor shares a lesson on technical skills like how to read a blueprint. Later, when a participant is ready to apply for a job, Renaissance staff works closely with them to create or update resumes or get ready for an interview.

In many cases, our work is also about checking in with a participant – letting them know we have their back as they take next steps into the workforce. “Our goal is to continue building our network of participants,” says Staley. “We have long-term relationships with the people we serve. These are our people – as long as we are able to connect with them, we will. Of course our interest is to place young people in jobs as soon as possible, but because of barriers they need to overcome in their lives, we stick with them to help them get on the road to stability.”

Joyce Weston, Program Director, says “A huge part of the Renaissance’s work is exposing young adults in the community to manufacturing. When people talk about career opportunities in some communities, manufacturing doesn’t come up.” Even during the pandemic, the program created exposure opportunities through various activities, including a Manufacturing Day in the fall of October 2020 and webinar that connected students to NASA in the spring of 2020.

The Renaissance has also partnered with more than 150 small and mid-sized companies over the years. These companies are part of the communities we serve and have specific needs for skilled employees. We continue to strive to provide a variety of ways companies can connect with our participants. In one important sense, our work with companies is parallel to how we work with program participants – it’s about relationships. While a company may welcome students for a tour of its facility (though not during the pandemic), they also play a vital role in an advisory capacity, by providing internships, financial support, and in other ways. (For Jim Piper, president of Matot in Bellwood, IL, engaging with the Renaissance this year include joining the Leadership Committee of the Chicagoland Manufacturing Renaissance Council. For more about Jim’s story, click here). “Employers are important strategic partners that play a key role in our local and national work,” says Erica Staley.

Growing Impact through a Manufacturing Ecosystem

The last year has also included a growing opportunity for Manufacturing Renaissance to further demonstrate the interdependent nature of its programs to enact change. What Renaissance often refers to as the “Manufacturing Ecosystem,” refers to the inextricably interconnected nature of the workforce, youth and economic development and policy work that is required to advance sustainable development. Programs that continued this year are grounded in nearly 40 years of the Renaissance’s work – and are informing current efforts to pass national legislation to expand the manufacturing sector and its related training, education, and economic development programs in this country. In the last year, the Renaissance has played an instrumental role in creating and advocating for a national agenda for manufacturing. Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky has introduced the Manufacturing Reinvestment Corporation Act, which is expected to come before Congress this fall. The $20 billion proposal will include support for community-based manufacturing renaissance councils that address intersecting crises of racism, climate change, and economic inequality, especially in Black and Brown communities. (The Renaissance’s view on manufacturing was published in the last year in a foundational document, Towards a New Paradigm of Development: Manufacturing Renaissance’s Theory of Change).

In another development, Staley was invited in September to join Gov. Pritzker’s Commission on Workforce Equity and Access. This statewide policy-informing body will make recommendations for how to consolidate the workforce development system in Illinois towards better serving low-income and communities of color.

“As we reflect on the last year and look to the future, we see great opportunities for Manufacturing Renaissance to advance our work,” Staley says. “That is true as we mentor individual participants in our programs in Chicago – and work to create a national model to transform the manufacturing sector, it is all required parts of the manufacturing ecosystem that can build communities.”