As the world of manufacturing changes and evolves, so must our educational institutions and training grounds. Here at School District U-46, we are not only keeping pace with those changes but offering a clear pathway to post-secondary careers. Our precision manufacturing classes teach 21st century technical skills alongside timeless ones — like cultivating a strong work ethic and taking pride in craft — that prepare students to succeed in today’s workplace.
In the district’s precision manufacturing classes at South Elgin and Streamwood High Schools, students get hands-on training in precision measurement and learn how to operate lathe, milling and grinding machines. There is an emphasis on designing a production process and CNC education, which prepares students for the computer numerical control systems that are prevalent in today’s clean, modern world of manufacturing.
The classes require problem solvers and those who excel in math. Some of the students juggle their advanced manufacturing courses with high-level math courses such as AP calculus.
Students often work for local companies such as Wittenstein, a German-based precision manufacturer whose North American headquarters in Bartlett has offered U-46 students internships and scholarships. The internships give students even more hands-on work experience, emphasizing that this is no longer simply a career where one stands in front of a machine, according to Dr. Lars Aldinger, the executive vice president of production and logistics.
South Elgin High School teacher Russ Bartz requires students maintain a weekly journal of what they’ve learned. The journal promotes writing skills and discipline, the sort of critical life and work skills that will keep students employed in the future.
Streamwood High School Teacher Matt Erbach points out that his lesson for figuring out the correct depth of a countersink is right out of trigonometry class but its real-life application helps students engage and remember the content.
U-46 students can earn college credit and test their proficiency through the National Institute of Metalworking Skills (NIMS), a standards groups whose rigorous, comprehensive accreditation program represents an important seal of approval within the manufacturing industry. U-46 is currently seeking district-wide accreditation of its precision manufacturing program through NIMS.
Eric Smith, the director of human resources for Hoffer Plastics in South Elgin, is also a member of the NIMS advisory council. The district’s class offerings, Smith notes, dovetail with what his company seeks in new employees — people with a sound educational foundation who want to continue to learn in the working world.
Who's Who in U-46 Precision Manufacturing
High School Programs meet top industry standards
What people are saying about PM
“We use our Precision Manufacturing Advisory Committee to make sure that our instruction is relevant to the working world. Manufacturing and engineering courses are offered in many other school districts, however, U-46 offers an unusually high number and variety of courses.”
Matt Erbach, teacher, Streamwood High School.
“For students, NIMS certification says I have proven my skill in the making of this product and that I have the knowledge it took to fashion it -- that I’m at a nationally-recognized level. It’s like an ACT test for manufacturing.”
Russ Bartz, teacher, South Elgin High School
“To me, (these classes) are a big deal. It makes me want to come to school. I just like starting my day with a challenge. I like coming to school and using my brain and making something cool.’’
Ryan Rompel, junior at South Elgin High School
“The skill set taught in the U-46 program translates perfectly into our tool room. We don’t need someone to push a button. Robots do that. We need someone who can work with the robots.”
Eric Smith, director of Human Resources, Hoffer Plastics Corp., South Elgin
“We need people that have a basic knowledge of metal, but who also have computer skills. When you combine them, there is an excellent result.”
Dr. Lars Aldinger, executive VP of production and logistics, Wittenstein's North American HQ in Bartlett