Most speakers ask their audience to turn off their cell phones before the program begins.
Harris, who toured some of Harper’s manufacturing classrooms and labs before taking the stage, urged the crowd – including nearly 300 local high school students there to get the scoop on manufacturing careers – to share what they were learning via Facebook, Twitter and texts.
“Tell your friends what you’re doing, what you’re hearing and what you’re seeing today,” Harris told them. “Fill them in on the opportunities that you are learning about here.”
Harris’ visit came on the heels of a nearly $13 million Department of Labor grant allowing for the statewide expansion of Harper’s new Advanced Manufacturing program. That program, launched this fall, boasts a variety of specialized certificates that build toward an associate or bachelor’s degree, and draws on partnerships with more than 70 area manufacturers to place students into paid internships with a goal of addressing a national shortage of skilled workers.
Harris commended the initiative, saying it would make “a world of difference” in the community, and thanked all for their role in preparing workers for “the jobs of tomorrow.”
Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs are going unfilled because of a shortage of skilled workers – people, Harris said, who like working with their hands and their heads in fields like robotics, computing, electronics and mechanics; who can fix complicated machinery and prevent it from breaking down at all; who can problem-solve and think ahead; and who are ready to work with high-tech machinery that’s revolutionizing manufacturing.
“These employers need you,” Harris said. “If you’re willing to put in a little more time and a whole lot of focus, I believe we can quickly get you trained on some high-level manufacturing skills. And I believe we can help you into good jobs – the kind where you get to build things, where you get to work with interesting people and where you will feel proud of what you do.”
Before his remarks, Harris joined Harper President Dr. Kenneth Ender and two students from the College’s Advanced Manufacturing program for a tour of the electronics engineering technology lab and other classrooms in Harper’s Avanté Center for Science, Health Careers and Emerging Technologies. Later, he mingled with representatives from more than a dozen area manufacturers who had set up exhibits at the event in an effort to further educate visiting students about the industry and inspire them to consider manufacturing as they identified potential careers.
“We spend a lot of time at the Department of Labor talking about preparing the next generation of American workers,” Harris said. “It’s a great pleasure to come here to Harper College and meet them face-to-face.”
Americans, he noted, are “a creative and ingenious lot,” and he said he saw that close-up on his tour. “Harper College,” Harris said, “is leading the way in this sort of innovation.”
The College’s Advanced Manufacturing program puts students – from recent high school graduates to laid-off adults looking for new career opportunities – into paid internships after just one semester. They return to campus afterward for specialized certificates mechatronics and automation, precision machining, metal fabrication or supply chain management, on their way to a degree. The statewide expansion of the program, made possible because of the newly announced federal funding, will mean students can complete the second piece of their classroom training at any of Harper’s two-year partner colleges in Illinois, at in-district tuition rates.
To learn more about the program, call 847.925.6940 or visit www.harpercollege.edu.