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Focus on the Workforce: Chicago Chapter Sets Example

Cheryl Balaban 






 By Cheryl Balaban
Freelance Education and Technology Writer
Chicago, IL 

SME’s Chapter 5 in Illinois is demonstrating how to develop the next manufacturing generation by forging creative partnerships with schools and businesses in the Chicagoland Metro Area. Their efforts are being headed by Bob Iossi, who joined SME in 2001 and became the chairman of SME Chicago No. 5 in 2006.

“I want to see manufacturing in the USA become what it used to be, not what it is today,” Iossi explained. “Kids don’t want to enroll because they don’t see things made here. The reality is that we still make 75% of the goods and food we consume in the US.”

A highlight of the chapter’s efforts include Wheeling High School in suburban Chicago, which is one of six schools that received inaugural designation as a PRIME school.

In order to receive designation as a Partnership Response in Manufacturing Education (PRIME) school, the school must have a strong academic and manufacturing curriculum based on STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), a rigorous and innovative program developed by Project Lead the Way. In addition, a candidate for PRIME should be staffed by experienced certified instructors with committed administrative and community support. Students

PRIME is just one tool that is being used by SME’s Education Foundation (SME-EF) to address the nation’s manufacturing workforce challenges.

The principal of Wheeling High School, Dr. Lazaro Lopez, recognized years ago that the community would support and welcome a manufacturing curriculum, and adopted the Project Lead the Way’s STEM program. The district also supports an active National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) student club.

SME Chicago No. 5 has brought in speakers to talk to classes, found or donated necessary materials and technology, judged battlebot competitions and introduced community partners who provide guidance, job information and placement. Although Wheeling’s shop does not have as much equipment as some other schools, it maximizes usage. Dr. Lopez also recently introduced nanomanufacturing capabilities with the support of local companies. Each year, the program adds more equipment and has expanded to include more than 100 students.

Another success story is Austin Polytechnical Academy on Chicago’s West Side. The Academy is a unique college and career preparatory high school focusing on careers in advanced manufacturing and engineering. The school proudly features a running record of NIMS certifications, with more than 125 students earning an impressive 191 industry-recognized certificates. SME is on the school’s faculty advisory board and offers quarterly speakers. Iossi’s group worked with the instructors and students on their first product, keychain panic whistles.

“Their intent was safety, but it turned into an automation project,” Iossi said. “Our chapter invested and asked them to customize 500 whistles for SME, teaching them the concept of order entry and interconnecting with other business groups in the school.”

Other local high schools in Niles Township and East Leyden are also partnered with SME Chicago No. 5  in similar fashion, with SME members mentoring students and collaborating with staff. The school has been recognized by SME for having the best machine shop in the Chicago area and perhaps the nation. At East Leyden, SME helped the program reach out to local industry to help provide materials and tooling equipment. In one instance, SME members stepped in to repair a broken bandsaw for the school. In suburban Skokie, Niles North’s strong STEM curriculum is already in place, drawing SME’s support although their shop is not able to cut metal. Iossi would like to create a friendly competitive market between schools, with projects and competitions judged by his SME chapter.

As word-of-mouth spreads, other interested communities are contacting SME. The SME chapter in Waterloo, IA, and their school district recently visited the Chicago area for ideas to help expand their three high schools’ programs.

Daley College, one of seven two-year City Colleges of Chicago, operates more independently from the organization but benefits from the connection with a long-time SME member. After only six months in the Associate Degree in Manufacturing program, Andre Morgan, 27, has already accepted a job offer that will allow him to continue school as well.

“I wasn’t expecting to get job offers in something I’m pursuing as a career so soon,” said Morgan.

SME Chicago No. 5  is also involved at the four-year college level in the region, working with Northern Illinois University in De Kalb. Initially, NIU applied for a grant from SME-EF. The foundation connected the school with its senior members who helped design grants and led to the founding of a new SME student chapter. The senior chapter members host a speaking series focused on topics ranging from robotic applications to manufacturing processes. After graduation, founding member and student chairman Salvatore Palazzolo was added to the SME Chicago No. 5 Board as the new liaison between all participating schools and SME, providing a bridge between the student chapters and eventual membership in a senior professional SME chapter.
Nearly 95% of active student members in NIU’s chapter secured internships, many from local businesses. Manufacturing companies are enthusiastic about the opportunity to fill intern positions with local students. Many of the companies eventually hire their interns as full-time employees, including Palazzolo. He is currently a Manufacturing Engineer for Caterpillar, Inc. in the Integrated Manufacturing Operations Division working on medium and large wheel loader structures.

“The outcome was so much better than I had ever imagined,” Palazzolo said. “And when companies give experience and educational support to students it leads to further advancement of the industry in general.”

American businesses are eager to offer interested students internship opportunities which may lead to full-employment immediately after graduating college. Hiring the interns they’ve trained saves both time and money for employers and eases the transition for new employees. In addition, local hiring keeps relocation costs low for new employees and fosters a deeper connection between industry and the local area. The ability to keep manufacturing jobs in the United States hinges on solving the skilled labor shortage as well as changing the perception that there is an absence of industry careers here at home.

“It’s really rewarding,” Iossi said. “Awareness brings attention. We can make strong industry connections between companies and schools and get people communicating and working together. It’s the perfect way to fulfill our mission at SME.”

Currently, SME Chicago No. 5's vision includes adding five new schools and two new colleges per year to the program. The board assigns a current senior member, ideally an alumna from a local manufacturing company, to advise and become a part of each new school’s educational network. Iossi’s plans also include starting a job posting section for students on the SME website, where businesses and professional members can attract interested applicants, thereby forging industry connections between the schools and manufacturing companies. As each local board reflects the culture of the area, Iossi passionately believes that SME member involvement is needed for success. ME


This article was first published in the July 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF

Published Date : 7/1/2013

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