Not Your Grandfather’s Shop Class: Job Training and Manufacturing in Chicago

3.14.13 | A new report from BRR member Howard Wial points to the Chicago area’s potential and promise as a national manufacturing policy leader. Locating Chicago Manufacturing: The Geography of Production in Metropolitan Chicago examines the fact that although Northeastern Illinois (along with Kenosha County, WI, and a quartet of counties in Northwest Indiana), has suffered a decade’s worth of severe sector losses overall, (A) the region is nationally a major manufacturing center and (B) locally, manufacturing has become a specialized job sector.

Wial, who is also a nonresident senior fellow with the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, notes here some of the other reasons why Chicago is emerging as a national manufacturing hub/leader, and what lessons that has for other regions. One reason he cites, Austin Polytechnical Academy, on Chicago’s West Side, is also noted in this post at the Network on Transitions to Adulthood:

Not your grandfather’s “shop” classes, students–the majority from low-income families–learn about careers in all aspects of the industry, from skilled production and engineering to management and company ownership, plus related sectors like intellectual property law. These are jobs where you’re on the computer in the morning designing the die cast and on the machine in the afternoon making that cast.

The students can leave high school with a machinist accreditation and the school works to place them in jobs right out of high school, paying in the low $40,000s. The school works closely with local manufacturers to ensure that the employers support the students, and part of the deal is to provide scholarship money and time to continue their education beyond high school.

In the context of regional manufacturing policy, the school becomes part of an effort to create a pipeline of talent companies can count on, thus providing an economic step up while making the region more attractive to more manufacturers.

“Locating Chicago Manufacturing” dovetails with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s “drill-down” report on the region’s manufacturing industry, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s recent report West Cook County COD+TOD, which examines the potential for both cargo-oriented and transit-oriented development, and connecting the two so people can easily and readily move between home and work.

These examples are Chicago-centric, but the conclusions can be applied anywhere.

These reports point to another important connection, one sometimes overlooked given the often siloed nature of research and policy: the basic linkages between land use and transportation. Without making those connections more explicit, we’re missing opportunities to bend conversations on regional development and resilience toward even sharper conclusions and perhaps quicker implementation.

For example, New Jersey’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Program is an instructive tax incentive designed to lure manufacturers to locate near existing rail and highway infrastructure, or offices to locate near train or transit stations. The goal is to draw new businesses to town, avoid inducing yet more sprawl, and make it easier for people to get around. Seems to me a win-win-win for regional resilience.

Photo/ Mary Anne Enriquez

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