NOTE: This first appeared in the Oct. 1 edition of the Daily Herald Business Ledger.
A number of high school students in McHenry County were recently treated to a day off from school and a peek into their future.
About 850 students from nine county high schools got the opportunity to attend the 29th edition of the International Manufacturing Technology Show at Chicago’s McCormick Place last month. The event, which is held every two years, showcases the latest in technology and processes in the manufacturing industry and features 1,800 exhibiting companies, according to the ITMS website. The show attracts more than 82,000 industry professionals from 116 countries.
What makes this field trip unique is that it was hosted by the McHenry County Economic Development Corp. and several manufacturing companies in the county, which organized and underwrote the costs of the event.
The students — the majority of whom were interested in vocational or science, technology, engineering and mathematics-related careers — rode 15 chartered buses to the event, where they had the opportunity get up close to the latest in manufacturing technology and talk to experts about the industry.
The goal of the trip was to introduce the students to the manufacturing industry in hopes that they will continue their education along that track to provide McHenry County businesses with skilled workers, according to Pam Cumpata, president of the MCEDC.
“With over 25 percent of the county’s economic wealth coming from manufacturing, we are concerned about the workforce for today and for the future, so we felt this trade show was a great way to connect our high school students to potential careers,” Cumpata said.
“The ITS has a great outreach to the high schools with the collaboration of the (National Institute for Metalworking Skills) Student Center,” she added. “Through that group, the educators and students receive passes to the entire show for the week. They too feel that we need to introduce all the career opportunities to our students.”
When the students arrived at the trade show, they were treated to an orientation program at the Student Center, hosted by NIMS and global machine tool company Sandvik Coromant. The program gave an overview of what to expect at the show and where to go, and the students watched a video connecting advanced manufacturing, STEM education and everyday life. After that, they were turned loose to the show.
“This brings the learning in the classroom to 3-D. It’s touchable. They talk to people in the field and see the future,” Cumpata said. “We hope that these students experience that moment when you see an opportunity for a career.”
While on the bus to the show, the students also watched a 20-minute video highlighting manufacturing in McHenry County. Cumpata said the video featured photos from eight local manufacturing facilities, as well as interviews with recent graduates who interned at Scot Forge in Spring Grove.
The video also featured Caterpillar Corp. CEO Doug Oberhelman … who coincidentally is a graduate of Woodstock High School.
“Mr. Oberhelman had been so great in working with us,” Cumpata said. “Last year he was our keynote at the MCEDC annual dinner, so requesting his participation on this video was complimentary to that.”
Cumpata said the local high schools were enthusiastic about being a part of the endeavor. The participating schools included Johnsburg, Woodstock, Woodstock North, Richmond-Burton, Harvard, Cary-Grove, Alden-Hebron, Marengo and Huntley.
And while MCEDC hosted the trip, much of the costs was underwritten by local companies, including Scot Forge, Sage Products in Cary and Wells Manufacturing in Woodstock, according to Cumpata.
As for the students, Cumpata said the trip’s success could be seen in their faces.
“From the smiles on their faces just in the student center, this trip is having an impact,” she said.
And with it, the hope it’ll bring a new generation of skilled workers to local manufacturing.
“The MCEDC’s mission says it all,” she said. “If we lose our primary employers, we will struggle economically. The future workforce is critical to maintaining those employers.
“Within each company — specifically manufacturing — they need people in STEM and vocational skills to stay in business and — even more important — compete with the world,” Cumnpata added.