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Chicago High School Prepares Students for Real-World Manufacturing Jobs

December 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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With unemployment holding steady above 9 percent, the jobs market looks bleak. But there is one industry that has added jobs: manufacturing. Ash-har Quraishi of Chicago News Cooperative reports on one public school that's retooling to help its graduates take advantage of these jobs.
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This piece was produced by the Chicago News Cooperative. You can learn more about Austin Polytechnic Academy here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: For those stations not taking a pledge break, the NewsHour continues with an education story from Ash-har Quraishi of the Chicago News Cooperative.

It’s part of our NewsHour Connect project.

MALE: And what kind of function is this?

MALE: Rational.

MALE: Rational function.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI, Chicago News Cooperative: At Austin Polytechnical Academy on Chicago’s West Side, students in this advanced placement calculus class are learning about integrals, infinite series and derivatives.

MALE: And so she brings that negative two out in front times X to the -3.

Now, what’s she going to do next?

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: But it wasn’t just the college prep curriculum that brought 18-year-old Stran’ja Burge (ph) here.

STRAN’JA BURGE: It was like they had like a different approach to high school learning, like some schools — some kids who go to a different school, they’re just focused on the basics, like math or social studies, reading, all that. But here, they showed us something different.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: That something different is the result of an unfulfilled demand for highly skilled, highly educated personnel in the manufacturing sector.

ERICA SWINNEY, director , Austin Polytechnical Academy: Our mission is to educate the next generation of leadership in advanced manufacturing.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: Erica Swinney is a director of career and community programs at Austin Polytechnical Academy.

ERICA SWINNEY: The baseline is, you know, having a high school diploma. But in a lot of ways, that’s really — that really doesn’t mean anything anymore in terms of specific skills. So what we do at Austin Polytech is that we have a — our students have a chance to earn nationally recognized credentials in — in machining.

MALE: So we can insert the chuck key (ph). And this chuck key I like using because it springs back. There’s no way of leaving it in.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: It’s instruction like this that sets Austin Polytech apart. It’s the only CPS high school dedicated to teaching students manufacturing skills. Along with social studies and English, students here take three to four years of pre-engineering courses. And in their junior year, students like Deandre Joyce (ph) are required to take a National Institute for Metalworking Skills, or NIMS, machining course.

MALE: Now, turn it on to the high gear.

MALE: The high gear?

MALE: Yeah the high gear.

ERICA SWINNEY: So when our students graduate, they’ll have their diploma but then our students can have up to two of these NIMS credentials, which, regardless of — of, you know, again, what their post-secondary goals are, I mean they can be a relevant, you know, contributor to an advanced manufacturing company and they could also — I mean this is something that would enhance their, you know, college applications.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI : Edward Gordon is a strategic workforce consultant who has written over a dozen books, including “Winning the Global Talent Showdown.” He currently serves on the Chicago Renaissance Manufacturing Council’s executive board.

EDWARD GORDON, author, “WINNING THE GLOBAL TALENT SHOWDOWN”: The message here is that wouldn’t want everyone to go into technology and manufacturing. But we don’t need everyone to go into banking and communications careers, either.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: Gordon says the global marketplace is in the midst of a revolution. Within the next 10 years, he sees the emergence of as many new products and services as were seen in the last 50 years.

FEMALE: We would learn how to program it.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: The problem, he says, is that the there aren’t enough well-trained people to fill those high tech manufacturing jobs.

EDWARD GORDON: Unfortunately, they don’t even know about these things, nor do their parents. That’s the people paradox, because, for the first time, we have a younger generation coming up who are less prepared educationally for the world that we have created. That wasn’t supposed to happen in the United States.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing job openings from July 2009 to July 2010 increased 118 percent. But hiring during that same period only increased 13 percent. That, say industry experts, suggests that the line between blue collar and white collar jobs is disappearing.

EDWARD GORDON: Right now, in the United States, there are 15 million Americans who are unemployed. Yet we now have three million vacant jobs that we cannot fill. The majority of those are STEM jobs — science, technology, engineering and math-related. And most of those do not require a four year degree to get started, but a two year degree, one or two year certificates, post-secondary or an apprenticeship college.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: It’s one reason the owners of Hudson Precision Products here in Broadview have been actively involved in supporting programs like the one at Austin Polytech, in the hope that down the line, these graduates will one day fill the needs of tomorrow’s manufacturing jobs.

MALE: There you go. I’ll put it on high here.

JOAN WRENN, CEO, Hudson Precision Products: It was a program that as put together with a very distinct purpose of manufacturing technology at the high school level, because the need is so great in the city of Chicago for people to do this kind of work. And Chicago public schools did listen to us and say we agree that this is a need and we will help you in setting up this program.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI: Joan Wrenn is the CEO of Hudson Precision Products. Her company is one of about 65 Austin Polytechnical Academy industry partners. Companies like hers have provided job shadowing and apprenticeships to students like Deandre Joyce. The goal is to give them exposure to actual job experience so they can test the waters before deciding on their eventual career paths.

DEANDRE JOYCE: At the high school I probably will work at when I apprentice Hudson Precision for a year and then go to college and get a degree in manufacturing or — or business.

MALE: All right. Everybody see the grid? It looks like your graph paper, right?

The dark part, that’s the size of your room. Somebody yell now their dimensions for your room at home that you’re (INAUDIBLE).

Who remembers their dimensions?

JOAN WRENN: They need to be sophisticated in math and they need to have their basic science courses and their basic engineering courses and have enough machining knowledge to understand what it’s all about. So the whole thing is exposure — exposure to what they would do if they were to take a job in manufacturing.

ERICA SWINNEY: And it doesn’t take away from the college, you know, preparatory courses. All students take all of them. And so I think it — it is sort of a powerful combination that — that we — that we provide for our students.

ASH-HAR QURAISHI And for students like Stronge Burge (ph), being proficient in calculus is just as important as learning real world skills that can keep her afloat if college has to be put off.

STRAN’JA BURGE: They say that coming out of high school, we can get a good paying job just by actually doing what we had to do in — in high school, so by them offering us the engineering classes and stuff. So it was like even if I decided to wait, I’d still be able to get a good job.

MALE: You would agree with what she’s saying, then?

JUDY WOODRUFF: The first class of students graduate from Austin Polytech in the spring.