Jacob Jones said she wants to pursue a career in manufacturing because it allows her to build things.
“What makes a cube special is that all sides are equal,” said Jones, a senior at Austin Polytechnical Academy High School. “Designing new ways to build things is a lot of what goes on in manufacturing and I like that.”
The West Side school, located at 231 N. Pine Ave, has 152 students in the Manufacturing Connect program, where students learn about the manufacturing industry as part of a pilot program operated by the nonprofit Manufacturing Renaissance. Among the goals of the program is to recruit more minorities to an industry Dan Swinney, executive director for the program, said is dominated by white owners.
“A lot of manufacturing companies are owned by predominately white males. Traditionally, ownership is passed on to other family members, but many have closed because of a lack of new ownership,” explained Swinney. “Many times children of manufacturing owners do not want to run the family business and instead choose other careers.”
Erica Swinney, Manufacturing Renaissance’s program director, said students learn about careers in all aspects of the industry, from skilled production, engineering, product development, management and company ownership — in addition to related sectors like intellectual property law.
“Students learn about the industry from top to bottom and are exposed to different careers in manufacturing,” said Erica Swinney. “Ideally, we would like to see the program expand to more schools across the city.”
She added that, thanks to a four-year, $2.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, the program is able to continue.
“The program cost $750,000 a year to run so funding is important,” said Erica Swinney. “Chicago Public Schools is one of our partners, but more partnerships are needed.”
On Sept. 21, Shari Raunner, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League, toured the manufacturing facility at Austin and met with students.
“I like what I saw and heard from the students,” Runner said, as she toured the school. “Vocational education is needed because not everyone who graduates from high school will go on to attend a four-year college.”
Students also receive college credit from the program, said Leslye Long, assistant program director and mentor coordinator.
To date, students have received 300 paid job experiences that have generated $300,000 in income for our students, added Long. Additionally, the program graduated 100 percent of its seniors in 2015 and all 30 graduates were accepted to college.
So far, 55 students have received full-time employment, and the program features dual enrollment with Richard J. Daley College, where Austin students can receive college credit, according to City Colleges of Chicago officials.
“Our goal is to have students graduating with a degree in one hand and a job offer in the other,” said Long.
Dan Swinney said he would like to form a partnership with the Urban League, which provides free job training to youth and adults.
The program has seen much success overall, according to Gregory Joseph, a spokesman for the program. He said the program aims to break the cycle of poverty while rebuilding minority communities.
“[The] mission is to educate the next generation of leaders in all aspects of advanced manufacturing [such as] production, engineering, product development, and business development,” said Joseph. “Manufacturing Connect partners with over 40 companies to provide mentoring, field trips, work experience and other enrichment opportunities.”