Chicago once had many large and small industries that provided thousands of family wage jobs. But with the decline in US manufacturing, many of those industries and jobs have disappeared. . Now a coalition of business, labor, education, and public officials called the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council [CMRC] is determined to restore Chicago as a world center for advanced manufacturing.
Even in today’s depressed economy, thousands of high tech, highly paid manufacturing jobs in Chicago remain open, because companies cannot find qualified applicants to fill them. So the CMRC is focusing on education, and they’ve begun in the west side neighborhood called Austin.
“Austin Polytechnical Academy was designed to connect young people in Austin to careers in advanced manufacturing,” according to Erica Swinney, director of career and community programs at Austin. “It was inspired by the early technical school in Mondragón that was part of a regional economic development strategy that led to the Mondragón Cooperatives.” This small public high school works closely with the Austin community, where most of its students live, and it has attracted some very dedicated teachers.
According to machine shop teacher Pablo Varela, here working with student Otis Johnson, “The main goal is that a student gain the skill sets to be successful in both manufacturing and engineering, whatever they choose.”
CMRC companies advise the school about curricula, provide internships, and offer job shadowing opportunities where students learn what it would be like to work in a given job. Just five years after the school was founded, students are planning professional careers that once would have been out of reach. Junior Desiree Wordlaw is interested in biomedical engineering, and senior Torres Hughes plans to study law and engineering.
Recent graduate Marquise Booker: “Austin set up job shadowing, and I was interested in metal working so I chose Laystrom. I liked working there, and they offered me a summer job.” After Marquise graduated, Laystrom Manufacturing hired him, and now they are helping to pay for him to study mechanical engineering at Triton College.