Expansive new facility helps train the next generation of manufacturing professionals in Chicago
Machining programs at community colleges can bring to mind images of old, tired equipment, housed in even older, drab facilities. That was the case at Richard J. Daley College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago. But not anymore.
Today, the college operates the brand-new Manufacturing Technology & Engineering Center (MTEC), housed in a strikingly beautiful new building. The machines are new. The floors sparkle. There’s a light-filled, atrium-like lobby; a colorful, welcoming common space where people can gather; spacious, well-lit and well-equipped labs and classrooms; and a dramatic “high-bay” manufacturing floor, with open space two stories high and large windows that allow natural light to illuminate rows of machines. It also lets people driving or walking by the facility see what’s happening inside. And while the facility’s machines can make high-accuracy parts, they are also producing something else. Hope. A future.
Located in the Ford City neighborhood of Chicago, Daley College, a two-year institution, is named after the legendary Richard J. Daley (father of the more recent mayor, Richard M. Daley), who during his 21-year mayoral reign coined one of the city’s most lasting nicknames: The City That Works.
MTEC is a school that works. It works at developing creative solutions to serve its community and establish unique programs and flexible scheduling for students who may need a helping hand to get started, young people who may become valuable manufacturing workers.
A Fresh Start
In January 2019, the 52,000 ft2 (4,831 m2) training and manufacturing space was opened across the street from the school’s legacy building. Previously, the college’s manufacturing equipment was housed in decades-old temporary Quonset hut buildings. The new building is linked to the older facility via a pedestrian walkway that spans 76th street. MTEC includes equipment from Haas Automation, robots and cobots from FANUC, automated robots with welding end effectors from Lincoln Electric Welding, CMMs from Carl Zeiss Industrial Metrology, EDM equipment from Mitsubishi, and measuring equipment from Mitutoyo and The L.S. Starrett Co.
The Public Building Commission of Chicago awarded the facility a 2019 Merit Award, saying, “The seamless fluidity of the building’s form was inspired by the constant, linear flow of the manufacturing process. Expansive views of the high-bay training area from the main lobby and 76th street draw attention to the center’s high-tech manufacturing equipment, which served as an inspiration for the building’s palette.”
It also serves as an inspiration to young people who live in the neighborhood and attend its public schools.
“We built this building to attract students, and we built in a ‘wow’ factor,” said Webb Hicks, professor of advanced manufacturing at MTEC, who has four decades of manufacturing experience to offer his charges. He and other Daley College leaders were interviewed by Manufacturing Engineering at a meeting setup up by SME Division 5, the local SME chapter, and attended by SME staff and Division 5 members.
A History of Manufacturing
The Ford City neighborhood takes its name from the Ford Motor Co., which built structures in the neighborhood during World War II to house aircraft manufacturing. Daley College has been a neighborhood beacon since opening in 1960. The genesis of MTEC dates back to 2013 after a study examining the Chicago-area workforce found a critical need for workers in the coming decade. The study predicted that more than 20,000 jobs in engineering and advanced manufacturing will be created over the next decade.
Based on the study, City Colleges of Chicago and then Mayor Rahm Emanuel focused on reorganizing the schools to meet those projected labor shortages. Seven professions were targeted, and seven colleges in the school system were selected to be Centers of Excellence. Thus, the $42 million MTEC was born.
This “game changer” facility was created to train future workers on the latest available technologies and give the students a well-rounded knowledge of all aspects of manufacturing.
Decisions on equipment and curriculum were made in conjunction with industry groups and corporate partners interested in a trained workforce in Chicago. The school, which previously had a large roster of high-quality, but aging, machines, houses modern CNC technology typically found in for-profit manufacturing facilities.
The building has 10 labs and classrooms populated with advanced training equipment that targets specific technologies and applications, said David Girzadas, Dean of Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing.
Equipment includes tabletop laser cutters, multi-axis CNC devices, additive manufacturing equipment, metrology instruments, CAD/CAM and other software, digital connectivity technologies and more. Students go through classroom instruction and hands-on training and get a nuts-to-bolts education on manufacturing design, engineering, and production. Enrollees learn marketable skills and earn college credits.
Girzadas, who brings more than 30 years of manufacturing experience to the school, said four educational pathways are offered: a 16-week Basic Certificate; an Advanced Certificate; an Associate Degree; and an education path leading to a four-year college degree.
“These programs can have a real transformative effect,” said Danny Sternfield, director of media relations, City Colleges of Chicago. “[Some] students are at a place in their life that is sometimes not great, and 16 weeks later they have a skill that’s very marketable ... It is life changing.”
The school’s engineering program allows students to take all of their electives and general engineering courses at Daley College, then transfer to participating universities. “The idea is that they’re exposed to manufacturing equipment and processes that are integrated into their training,” said Girzadas.
For example, students can earn a four-year B.S. degree in Industrial Management and Applied Engineering from the College of Engineering at Southern Illinois University, located 300 miles south of Chicago in Carbondale, Ill., all while attending weekend classes on the Daley College campus.
A Community School
Despite the multi-million-dollar investment at MTEC, Daley College remains a community school affordably training its residents for manufacturing jobs. A 2018 study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute estimates 2.7 million manufacturing job vacancies between 2018 and 2028.
An Illinois study by the Century Foundation brought the problem closer to home. In 2018, for instance, for every two available manufacturing jobs in Illinois, there was only one hire.
Daley College serves many African American and Hispanic students, two demographics with high unemployment rates. According to the 2019 Century Foundation study, Revitalizing Manufacturing and Expanding Opportunities for Chicago’s Black and Latino Communities, the unemployment rate for black or African Americans in Cook County, the county in which Chicago resides, was 15.5 percent. The rate for Hispanics was 7.3 percent and for whites was 4.0 percent.
The number of potential minority students is a factor in recruiting for MTEC. Bogan High School, a Chicago public school located half a mile from Daley College, has a minority enrollment of 99 percent, and 94 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, according to a U.S. News and World report on high schools.
“Daley College and MTEC give people in the surrounding neighborhoods access they might not otherwise have, and we can now better prepare students to not only land in-demand jobs but also excel at those jobs,” said Catherine Sikora, Daley College Professor and Manufacturing Department Chair. “The facility is state-of-the-art and it glows, and that was the goal when the City decided to invest in the future of advanced manufacturing and engineering.”
Students at ‘Different Places in Life’
While the idea for MTEC predates this report, it anticipated its conclusions. The school has embraced flexible schedules to serve those who cannot attend classes during traditional hours and reaches out to often overlooked demographic groups. “We try to meet the needs of students who are at different places in life,” said Girzadas.
The school’s inclusive ideal extends to adults as well as high school students. Daley College is working with local schools to encourage manufacturing as a profession.
“After one of our tours, a principal was smiling,” said Girzadas. “He said, ‘This really gives me hope for the future for our students that are interested in these things’.”
Bogan, the neighborhood high school, has benefited from Daley’s outreach. In a new program, students are picked up by shuttle buses during their 6th, 7th, and 8th period classes, and transported to the college. There, they get a chance to see the technology in action.
This experience is important, said Dr. Eduardo Garza, vice president of institutional effectiveness at Daley College and a Bogan high school alumnus. “You can talk about manufacturing, but unless we get these young people in front of some of our tabletop laser cutters or 3D machines, and have them walk out of here three hours later with something that they’ve designed, we’re going to have a very hard time convincing this next generation that this is a phenomenal industry to consider.”
Partnering with Community Groups
The college has also partnered with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a community organization that helps residents on Chicago’s South Side with housing, life skills, and on-the-job training. The IMAN job-training program, called Weekend Warriors, assists those returning from prison as well as high-risk youth.
A 12-week, three-class welding curriculum was developed that included a class called College Success, Welding 151: Introduction to Industrial Welding, and Welding 152: Intermediate Industrial Welding. Classes were held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and after completion, the students received a welding certificate, and earned nine college credit hours.
“This is a group that wouldn’t otherwise be doing anything on the weekends,” said Garza. “In Chicago, and this is no secret, we’ve been experiencing ... quite a bit of violence. So, we’re trying to figure out how to meet a societal challenge while providing [a] talented workforce to industry.”
One industry group that collaborated with Daley College was the American Gear Manufacturers Association. The trade group has worked with the school in the past, supplying lathes and mills, which the association would then also use a couple times a year for training.
With the new facilities, the AGMA/Daley College partnership has taken a major leap forward. In an effort to increase worker levels, which a 2017 AGMA survey found to be the industry’s top workforce concern, a 2019 agreement established the first AGMA National Training Center. A 10,000 ft2 (929 m2) space will be dedicated to gear manufacturing and is expected to train more than 600 students per year on all facets of gear manufacturing from gear basics to failure analysis. Students enrolled in Daley College’s manufacturing and engineering programs can participate in the program.
“We’ll have companies from all over the country, and internationally, come in for training,” said Girzadas. “They can run hands-on training programs, and we will have the ability to participate and train our instructors.”
Continuing training of instructors is important for the future. One MTEC instructor who has taken that to heart is Marvin Herrera, according to City Colleges of Chicago’s website.
In 2013, Herrera, the first-generation Mexican/Guatemalan child of immigrant parents, enrolled at Daley College to learn welding. A year later, he was hired by Freedman Seating Co., a partner of Daley College, and has been promoted to different positions over the last five years. Currently, he is a manufacturing engineering technician. But that wasn’t enough.
Herrera began work as a weekend entry-level welding instructor at Daley College to pay forward his good fortune. Now, he is pursuing an advanced manufacturing and engineering degree.
Herrera was the recipient of an America’s Promise Grant (APG) distributed by the Calumet Area Industrial Commission (CAIC), according to a press release from IMEC, a member of the MEP National Network. The CAIC grant is earmarked for underemployed and low-income individuals, and high-school grads.
The grant is just one way Daley College helps its students. It is developing apprenticeship programs and recently received a $200,000 grant from the state of Illinois to develop an infrastructure for apprenticeships for small and mid-size companies that can’t afford to set up their own apprenticeship program.
The school also entered into an agreement with the German American Chamber of Commerce to develop apprenticeships based on the Industry Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (ICATT) Apprenticeship Program. ICATT is an earn-as-you-learn program benchmarked against the German Dual Education System, which combines company-specific knowledge, theory, and hands-on learning to train a globally competitive workforce.
The MTEC program is rewarding not only for those who learn valuable skills, but also for those who have created it. “The biggest reward I get is when students come back and tell me how well they’re doing or what I’ve done for them,” said Webb Hicks. “That’s the reason I’m here in the first place. I’m trying to help them along, get started in manufacturing, and have a career. I had one student—Naomi Brown—in three or four classes who came back and said that she had completed IIT (the Illinois Institute of Technology) after being here two years. So what we did for her was a success, and that warms my heart more than anything else.”
MTEC Helps Mid-Career Student Achieve New Goals
Marcus Whittaker received his associate degree from Daley College in December 2019—but that’s only part of his story. After growing up in Chicago, Whittaker graduated from high school in Mississippi. He returned to Chicago in 1985 and enrolled at Malcolm X College. While at Malcolm X, he took business courses for a year. From there he went to Triton Community College to study HVAC.
With some higher education under his belt, Whittaker, 52, embarked on a career at Oak Park River Forest High School. He progressed from part-time custodian to building engineer. Even though he took early retirement, he knew there was more for him to do. Specifically, the father of two wanted to finish his education.
Whittaker started in the fall of 2017 at Daley College. He studied advanced manufacturing and took classes at the Manufacturing Technology & Engineering Center (MTEC), which prepares students for the tens of thousands of anticipated jobs coming to the region in the engineering and advanced manufacturing fields during the next decade. Whittaker learned a wide range of skills through his coursework at Daley College, including CNC, welding, and factory automation.
“My experience at Daley has been outstanding; the classes touch all the bases in terms of teaching me what I need to know,” said Whittaker. “Everything about being here has been positive—it’s a big reason why I’m headed towards accomplishing my goal.”
That goal is a bachelor’s degree. Whittaker plans to transfer and start at Governors State (GSU) in the spring of 2020 in the manufacturing management program. Following completion at GSU, he’d like to start his next career as a welder.