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December 2, 2010

Advanced Manufacturing is Focus of Chicago School

With the U.S. unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent, Austin Polytechnical Academy is using an unconventional curriculum to help students get high paying jobs after graduation.

The Chicago high school teaches the basics, but also requires students to take classes in the manufacturing sector. The demand for highly skilled, highly educated personnel in manufacturing is at an all-time high in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, manufacturing job openings from July 2009 to July 2010 have increased by a whopping 118 percent–yet hiring in the field has only increased 13 percent. It shows that the demand is there, but what’s lacking is a qualified workforce.

“The baseline is having a high school diploma. But in a lot of ways that really doesn’t mean anything anymore in terms of specific skills. At Austin Polytech our students have a chance to earn nationally recognized credentials in — in machining,” said Erica Swinney, director of career and community programs at Austin Polytechical Academy.

The high school is one of a kind in the Chicago Public School system. Students at Austin Polytech are required to take three to four years of pre-engineering courses and must take a National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) machining course. Upon graduation students from Austin Polytech not only have a high school diploma, they have NIMS credentials. Both of which makes them viable candidates in the manufacturing workforce and enhances their college applications, says Swinney.


“It was like they had like a different approach to high school learning. Some kids who go to a different schools, they’re just focused on the basics, like math or social studies, reading. But here, they showed us something different.” –Stran’ja Burge, student at Austin Polytech

“Our mission is to educate the next generation of leadership in advanced manufacturing.”–Erica Swinney

Warm Up Questions

1. What is manufacturing?

2. How have factories changed in the last 100 years?

3. What is a “blue collar” job? What is a “white collar” job?

4. What is a trade school?

5. How are trade schools different from four-year colleges

Discussion Questions

1. Manufacturing job openings from July 2009 to July 2010 have increased by 118 percent, yet hiring in manufacturing has only increased 13 percent. What does this statistic tell you about the American manufacturing industry?

2. Why does Austin Polytech require its students to take courses in engineering and manufacturing?

3. What are some courses besides English, math and science that you believe would be beneficial to finding a job out of high school? Does your school offer them? Why or why not.

Additional Resources

Read video transcript

Graduation Report ‘Encouraging,’ But Many Schools Risk ‘Dropout Factory’ Status

President Obama Pushes Accountability in Back-to-School Remarks

New Community College Standards Could Hike Graduation Rates

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