Skokie, partners launch nanotechnology job-training program
The Illinois Science + Technology Park in Skokie is teaming with the village, Oakton Community College and NanoInk on a new job training program in the budding field of nanotechnology. | Photo courtesy of Vetter Pharma International GmbH
What: Nanotechnology Employment, Education and Economic Development Initiative job training program.
Funding: $250,000 outside grant, $250,000 from downtown Skokie Illinois Science Park tax increment finance fund.
Partners: Village of Skokie, Illinois Science Park, Oakton Community College, NanoInk’s NanoProfessor division and area high schools
Purpose: To train technicians in the budding field of nanotechnology.
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:25AM
One of the first occupants of the Illinois Science + Technology Park in 2005 was The NanoBusiness Alliance, a national industry association, which moved its Midwest headquarters into Skokie.
A future Skokie acquisition for a site near the science park is Evanston-based Applied Thin Films Inc., a nanotechnology company that is relocating to property on nearby Elmwood Avenue and expanding its operations.
Understanding that nanotechnology is a budding and important field in science, the village and the science park have teamed to create a job-training program to make sure future employees will be able to fill companies’ nanotechnology needs.
Oakton Community College and NanoInk’s NanoProfessor division, a science park tenant, are also partners in what is called the Nanotechnology Employment, Education and Economic Development Initiative.
The program received a $250,000 grant from The Chicago Community Trust, and Skokie village trustees recently approved a matching grant of $250,000 to come from the science park’s downtown tax increment finance fund.
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale and covers both current works and concepts that are more advanced.
Mayor George Van Dusen said the village has been working on the program with its partners for about a year.
“I really think it’s what tax increment financing was created for,” said the mayor about the matching $250,000 the village will provide.
The program will work with all high school districts in the area to provide hands-on opportunities to learn nanotechnology. Oakton will also begin a certificate-program to train for nanotechnician jobs.
Van Dusen said there are 40 to 50 companies in the area using the science of nanotechnology.
“One of the things we’ve learned over the last couple of years are these companies are hiring Ph.D.s, but they have work they’d like to do for nanotechnicians,” Van Dusen said. “These are jobs that would begin at $40,000 a year and it would pay upwards of $60,000 to $65,000 a year.”
Planners for the new job-training program believe there is a shortage of nanotechnology technician jobs. Companies have been relying on employees with advanced degrees for that type of work.
“These companies would like to be able to hire the technicians and then deploy their doctorates to do higher math, physics, chemistry and biology” work, Van Dusen said, “but there’s a shortage in this field.”
If such employees do not become available, the mayor warned, many of the nanotechnology companies of the area will leave Illinois. Minnesota or the Pacific Northwest would be better able to accommodate them.
“This is an opportunity for us to be a leader in nanotechnology,” Van Dusen said.
One of the earliest companies to relocate to the science park, NanoInk, is the leader in nanotechnology, which could provide a boost to the program. NanoInk has sold equipment in South America and are in China and Eastern Europe.
Village Trustee Randy Roberts called the job-training initiative “a great investment in our young people in Skokie.”
The science park and Oakton Community College have already planned with an architect the lab space necessary for the program. Van Dusen said it’s possible that a program to teach teachers nanotechnology could begin in fall, but the high school programs would likely not begin until next spring.
“Nanotechnology is probably the emerging field in stem,” Van Dusen said. “And yet high schools do not teach nanotechnology. It will now be incorporated in their science curriculum.”
Some students are likely to emerge from high school, gain their certificate from Oakton and then go onto a four-year college before landing a job in this area.
“We want to try to encourage our young people (in this field), starting at the high school level,” the mayor said.