District 200 students tour Knaack

CRYSTAL LAKE – Sparks flew from Knaack welders Friday morning while the company tried to ignite in touring high schoolers an interest in manufacturing.

About 10 high schoolers in Woodstock District 200's Project Lead the Way program were at the Crystal Lake manufacturer for a tour of the facility and a talk from long-timers in the field.

Knaack and other manufacturers have tried to address an aging manufacturing workforce by working to break the stereotypes associated with manufacturing jobs and attract young people. In addition to occasional tours, the jobsite storage equipment-maker partners with area colleges, including McHenry County College.

"I'm glad I have a 20-year head start on the kids going through high school now," said Mark Friedrichs, a materials manager with Knaack who led one of the tour groups.

Jason Huber teaches Project Lead the Way at both District 200 high schools and said interest in the engineering-related program has increased since it started three years ago. Next year, Huber will start full-time at Woodstock High School as a second teacher joins the program at Woodstock North.

After the tour had ended and before panel discussion began, Huber said the students were excited to get a peek at the operation and to get a feel for the type of jobs some might consider in the future.

While on the tour, Huber noticed a recent Woodstock graduate working for Knaack.

"We're letting the students know what's out there," he said. "And we're letting them (Knaack) know that we're here."

Skilled workers are always in demand, said Knaack Vice President of Operations Lew Coffin.

He said efforts to connect with an up-and-coming generation – in part, through partnerships with schools like MCC and Northern Illinois University – have helped develop those skills. And in turn, to provide jobs to a generation soon to enter a tough workforce.

"That's why we do it," he said. "To give back to the community and to help the next generation of young people."