More than 300 students and their families got a firsthand look at career options Tuesday during the third annual Manufacturing, Trades and Industry Expo at McHenry East High School.
With more than 65 businesses participating, this year’s event was the biggest yet, said Karyn Burmeister, McHenry High School District 156 division chairwoman of career and technology education.
Leaders from local organizations and businesses set up tables in the school’s gymnasium to display products and services, and frequently offered hands-on explanations of day-to-day operations. Students and their families learned about education, skills and training necessary for careers in manufacturing, trades and industry.
The need for skilled workers is a well-documented struggle for many companies. According to a recent study by the Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte, 3.5 million jobs nationwide will need to be filled in the decade, but a skills gap is predicted to leave 2 million jobs open.
Through a partnership between the high schools, McHenry County College and local business leaders, the expo gives young people a chance to meet local industry representatives and learn about career paths available for those interested in working in the fields.
“I absolutely think it’s the best one we go to,” said Keith Wagner, president of Fabrik Molded Plastics in McHenry. “Every year, we’ve found somebody new here.”
Wagner said between six and 12 high school students have interned at his manufacturing plant each year since the company partnered with local high schools about 10 years ago. At Tuesday’s expo, students could sign up for a tour of his McHenry plant.
“We have success stories,” Wagner said.
One of those success stories is Dustin D’Amelio, a senior at McHenry West High School who has been doing a rotation internship for more than a year with Fabrik. His internship with the company allows him to work in several departments, including the tool room, maintenance and engineering.
He works at Fabrik for about four hours a day and takes classes at West. So far, tool and die work is capturing his interest, D’Amelio said.
“I’ve become a lot more informed about the industry,” he said.
Mike Gonzales, operations manager at Sphere Laser in St. Charles, said teaching young people about the industry is important to developing future leaders. Gonzales and his brother, John, who serves as business development manager for Sphere, showed MTI Expo attendees what lasers are capable of doing with samples of wood, plastic and other materials that were imprinted with logos and other designs.
“All of the kids who went through said, ‘Oh, a laser did that?’ ” Mike Gonzales said.
When young people go through the expo, they can get a look at the science behind manufacturing, trades and industry businesses, said Mike Gonzales, who graduated from McHenry East High School.
“[Business leaders] are always looking for good people,” Mike Gonzales said.
Burmeister said the expo not only is a great opportunity for students, but some parents also have found employment at the event. The MTI Expo is way to help all students pursue their post-secondary pathways to future career opportunities.
“It’s led to some pretty exciting things,” Burmeister said.
The first expo drew about 40 businesses, and it has grown steadily since, she said.
The MTI Expo also featured raffle prizes for attendees, and three scholarships were awarded, courtesy of the McHenry Sunrise Rotary Club.