Did you know Evanston has a commercial kitchen that supplies cookies to airlines, a manufacturer of lubricants used to make Ford F-150s, and a factory that produces the alternators in Humvees and other military vehicles?
That’s just some of what goes on in the brick warehouses of the city’s WestEnd business district, which District 65 middle school students discovered during the second annual Manufacturing Day this Monday.
The event was designed to showcase the city’s manufacturing businesses—as the banner said, “America Still Manufactures”—and to entice students to consider manufacturing as a career one day themselves. The manufacturing industry is experiencing a shortage of qualified workers, according to Dunni T. Cosey Gay, communications manager for the Chicago Cook Workforce Board, and labor market analysts predict that there will be more than 3,400 manufacturing job openings per year.
Those jobs aren’t necessarily what most people picture when they hear the word “manufacturing,” however—and that’s a point business owners hoped to make to students.
“Manufacturing truly has undergone a sea change,” said Jennifer Kalas, president of the lubricant manufacturer IRMCO and host of the event. “The old image of the field—as a dirty job for low-skilled workers—simply doesn’t reflect reality. Today’s manufacturing professionals often operate sophisticated technological equipment and are just as likely to be found behind a computer than on the shop floor.”
Leading students from Haven Middle School around the factory floor and offices of IRMCO, Kalas showed off a range of jobs. Some employees mixed the ingredients to make the lubricants, while chemists tested the finished product in a lab and office workers did sales, purchasing and finance.
Ben Comin, an eighth-grader at Haven, said he enjoyed the IRMCO tour most, and hopes to go into mechanical engineering. Fellow Haven eighth-grader Julia Borland said she’s not interested in all of the manufacturing jobs, but was surprised to discover one company had an international salesperson who spoke several different languages.
“I think they finally made a connection of what’s in the classroom to the outside world,” said Kristie Rachell, who teaches chemistry at Haven. “They learned how things they do now will apply.”
Along with IRMCO, students toured several other local businesses as part of the event, including printing company Allegra Marketing Print & Signs, drink-mix maker Collins Brothers, coffee roaster Coffee Speed Shop, brushless alternator producer C.E. Niehoff and commercial baker Sugar & Spice Extraordinary Sweet Treats.
Inside Sugar & Spice, students got to sample some of the fruits of the West End’s labor: freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Owner Jean Kroll, who started the business 16 years ago, said she works 80 hours a week but loves her job.
“I make cookies—how fun is that?” she told students.