GUEST COMMENTARY: Advanced manufacturing training program expands

2013-07-28T00:00:00Z GUEST COMMENTARY: Advanced manufacturing training program expandsBy Ed Paesel nwitimes.com
July 28, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Recent Rich East High School graduate Raheem Johnson likes working with his hands. One day he wants to study architecture. Or construction. But he isn’t sure and wants to buy some time.

Fellow graduate Tribuana Jones was absolutely sure she did not want to work at McDonald’s for the rest of her life, but was uncertain if she could afford college or if she even wanted to go.

So on July 8, Raheem and Tribuana, along with Rich East teacher Rodney Freeman, showed up for the first day of class in a manufacturing skills training program at Prairie State College. It’s the first time recent graduates and high school educators have become involved in the grant-funded program for displaced or unemployed adults. It is run by the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership.

“A universal high school mantra is that we need to prepare students for college, but a lot of kids don’t have the money or desire for college,” said Rich East High School Principal Mark Kramer. “We also need to prepare them for jobs.”

In response, Kramer took 30 students on tours to Kay Manufacturing Co., Esmark Steel and Luster Products last school year, and is also taking steps to add manufacturing skills training to the curricula at Rich East High School. In addition, he is sending teachers like Freeman to learn the program. The first Rich East manufacturing classes are scheduled for the 2014-15 school year.

Kramer found out about the CGMP after Park Forest Mayor John Ostenburg and other municipal and workforce leaders approached area high schools about including manufacturing technology in their curricula. That’s because they had long fielded complaints from existing and re-shored manufacturers who could not find enough skilled workers to run their factories. Yet he also fielded complaints that high unemployment rates continued to plague the region.

CGMP aims to solve both problems by helping manufacturing companies in the Calumet and Southland regions of Chicago acquire skilled manufacturing workers, including CNC operators with Manufacturing Skills Standards Council and National Institute of Metalworking Skills credentials.

"We want jobs and manufacturing to return to the Southland, but employers need to invest in manufacturing training at the secondary and post-secondary levels for their workforce of the future," Ostenburg said.

"The old paradigm of high school-to-college-to job has obviously shifted," said Reggie Greenwood, SSMMA's director of economic development and of the Chicago Southland Economic Development Corp. "There's a career path in advanced manufacturing that can lead all the way to engineering that includes both sustainable employment and a college education."

CGMP training programs offer foundational manufacturing skills and computerized machine tool operation and programming (CNC machine technology). It is funded by a three-year $850,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor and by the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.

Prairie State College is one of three education partners of the CGMP. Others include Richard J. Daley and South Suburban colleges. Additional partners include South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association and FB International LLC for employer engagement; OAI Inc. for recruitment, screening and job placement services; the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and the Chicago Jobs Council.

"We're seeking employer partners to help link the CGMP initiative to local high school programs like the one at Rich East by providing tours, internships, jobs, equipment and maybe even trainers," OAI Director Mollie Dowling said. 

For more information about the Calumet Green Manufacturing Partnership, please visit www.cgmp4u.org.

Ed Paesel is executive director of the South Suburban Mayors and Managers Association. The opinions are the writer's.

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