These aren’t the same manufacturing jobs that your father or grandfather once worked.
The kind of jobs that manufacturers are hiring for today are different, and Symbol Training Institute of Skokie wants people to know that.
Manufacturing for a long time has been thought of in terms of three “D’s” – “dark, dirty and dingy,” says Tom Peters, director of business operations at Symbol. “It’s really a negative stigma within the industry.”
And it’s one of several myths about manufacturing that still persists, and that Peters and Symbol Executive Director Diana Peters want to dispel.
The notion that almost all manufacturing jobs have been shipped out to other countries is another myth, they say. That may be true of lower-skilled manufacturing jobs producing clothes and electronics, but there are plenty of manufacturing jobs that need to be filled by trained workers.
That’s where Symbol comes in.
The small company has become a state-of-the-art training school for those who want to work advanced manufacturing jobs. Producing materials in medicine, defense, aerospace and other fields still requires qualified technicians.
Once a tool-and-dye shop in Skokie, Symbol closed operations in 2005 when it saw there was a void in advanced manufacturing training. It may have been ahead of its time because only recently has there been a buzz about the need for advanced manufacturing jobs.
“We saw this whole skills labor shortage coming about years ago and we were really the first on the current to catch on to that,” Tom Peters said. “We never had much fanfare and now, obviously, with manufacturing gaining a lot more traction these days, people are starting to hear a lot more about Symbol.”
Diana Peters’ father ran the tool and dye shop for years. Once the Peters took over and made the conversion, they completely renovated the space into a modern training facility.
Two years ago, they moved Symbol from its 3,000 square-foot home across the street to a new 11,000 square-foot building.
Tour the facility on the east end of Skokie today and one myth is immediately dispelled. The three “D’s” become the three “S’s” when examining the shop floor: spotless, spacious and state-of-the-art.
Students work on computerized numerical control machines or CNC machines, which are widely used in today’s manufacturing industry. Traditional machines such as vertical millers, centre lathes, shaping machines, routers and others operated by trained engineers have, in many cases, been replaced by these machines.
“These machines can pretty much make anything and everything for various industries,” said Diana Peters.
The Symbol owners emphasize the school’s hands-on training and its focus on finding students jobs. Students may have had little experience in manufacturing before, Diana Peters said, or they may be looking for training to advance in their jobs.
“We’re taking people who have never worked in a manufacturing plant and getting them up to speed within four months – getting them work-ready,” she said. “We’ll give them the basic machining principles to become experienced operators.”
The company currently has seven employees. It started with one instructor and now has 15 to 20, who work main jobs in the manufacturing industry.
“The idea when we designed it is that the instructors would stand to the side and instruct students on how to operate the machines,” Diana Peters said.
Students benefit from Symbol maintaining close ties to manufacturing companies. Although the age of students ranges from 18 to the mid-60s, the ideal age of a student is 25
to 45. The Peters say that nearly 90 percent of students who train at Symbol find jobs.
“I always say there’s no reason someone should walk through our doors and go through our program, get their certificate and not find a job,” Diana Peters said. “With so many openings out there and manufacturers begging for skilled workers, there’s no reason people who come through here shouldn’t have a position within a month.”
Symbol has been receiving more accreditation of late, and now has a partnership as a Chicago Cook Workforce Manufacturing Sector Center. Students who have financial challenges can even receive aid to attend the school.
The Symbol owners are anxious to stand up for today’s manufacturing industry and to tell people about their valuable school quietly hidden away on an industrial street in Skokie. Mayor George Van Dusen toured the facility last week. In recent months, U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-9) and State Rep. Lou Lang (D-16) stopped by as well.
“We really believe we’re not only changing the lives of many individuals coming through our doors, but we’re doing a really good thing for the manufacturing community,” Diana Peters said.