Lake County Partners is fortunate to work with incredibly skilled education leaders who are training the next generation of talent in Lake County. In pursuit of the best way to arm young students with the in-demand skills that they need to flourish in the workplace, local innovators are shaking up the traditional mold and charting a new path forward in education. Illinois schools and the businesses they serve will benefit immensely. The following is part of an ongoing series of blogs spotlighting Lake County’s strong education system. Learn more about the Illinois State Career Pathway Endorsement process here, and see how investments are shaping next generation talent here.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) provides high-school level instruction for careers in high-wage, high-skill, and in-demand occupations. CTE programs have been crafted to strengthen students’ technical skills, articulate transitions to postsecondary programs and/or employment, help meet learning standards and close achievement gaps.
“Lake County has emerged as a leader in CTE, and it has helped put our schools at the forefront of education in the state and the nation,” says Dr. Michael Karner, Lake County’s Regional Superintendent of Schools. “Educational leaders around the county are aligning programming with CTE courses to build career pathway endorsements. Because of the cutting-edge approach, career exploration is much more robust, and students are better prepared for the working world.”
A recent survey of 18 Lake County high schools found overwhelming support for and enrollment in CTE.* There are currently 14,244 high school students participating across the fields of manufacturing, healthcare and information technology. Manufacturing makes up the largest percentage of the cohort, with 8,016 students participating.
Most of the respondents indicated that they expect the enrollment numbers to continue to climb as the schools transition to more robust course selections. In fact, the Lake County Tech Campus’ enrollment continues to increase each year, and the school is anticipating more than a 10% increase next year. Many schools will be adding new opportunities in fields like sports medicine, agriculture, video/animation and robotics.
Round Lake High School is one such example, where planning is underway for a new sports medicine pilot that will train 28 students next year. The school has also made incredible connections with local employers to create seemingly unorthodox training opportunities. “This year, our Project Lead the Way classroom is working with Takeda to create prototypes that will be used in real world quality inspections on their manufacturing line,” says Eddie Adamson, the school’s CTE Department Chair. “Round Lake High School students meet with employees from Takeda multiple times throughout the year in order to perfect their ideas and products. It is a very synergistic process, and one that inspires our students to think big.”
WORK-BASED LEARNING IS A GAME-CHANGER
What used to be a 10-minute career inventory survey in most high schools has evolved into an entirely new process that weaves curriculum in with the philosophy of education. Schools leverage resources like SchooLinks and YouScience to help students understand their passions and interests, and this knowledge informs class selections and career opportunities. Supplemental career exploration events, internships and connections with mentors in the community round out the approach. The result is a well-informed, passionate and committed individual who is ready to build a career and immediately meet business needs in Lake County.
Meaningful CTE experiences are brought to fruition through a “Work-Based Learning (WBL)” strategy that connects employers and future employees through structured learning experiences that develop transferable skills for postsecondary education and the workplace.
“We have prioritized community partnerships, and they have been instrumental to our success at Grayslake D127,” reports Gina Schuyler, the CTE Department Chair for Careers and Community Partnerships. “Students can be seen meeting with companies at lunchtime for summer hiring, exploring areas of interest and taking field trips to job sites to understand the reality of certain work environments. Our coordinator also creates monthly calendars for students and parents to engage with the community.”
“We understand that today’s high school is not just the physical walls of the classroom; it is the classroom and the community together that helps create REAL learning,” adds Schuyler. “We even use the hashtag #D127GetsREAL – an acronym that stands for Real, Engaging, and Authentic Learning. Often times, these mini experiences turn into rewarding internships or more intensive career exploration opportunities. CTE’s popularity has growth so much that we have created 8 new positions in the last four years alone, taking our staff from a team of 12 to a team of 20 to accommodate demand.”
WBL is critical to advancing equity and opportunity for all Lake County students because it results in affordable or no-cost advanced education.
For example, at D127 in Grayslake, students participated in the College of Lake County’s Apprenticeship Spring Break Program, which then launched into a “Learn and Earn” program that combines job-related classroom learning with structured on-the-job training with a mentor in fields like business, education, horticulture, manufacturing and information technology.
D127 also received a grant through the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association (FMA) to host a summer camp for middle schools called Nuts Bolts and Thingamagjigs that enabled students to tour Libertyville-based manufacturer Laser Precision and learn how to earn tuition reimbursement for manufacturing training.
“Laser Precision has experienced tremendous success, in part because of Lake County’s high quality workforce,” said Human Resources Manager and Lake County Partners Board of Governors Member Kimberly Wimer. “As a growing manufacturer, it has been our honor to engage with students and provide exposure to the high-tech careers that await them in this industry.”
Students and parents will also connect with Waukegan-based manufacturer LMT Onsrud to begin “pre-apprenticeship” talks. Several others will be placed in embedded school-day internship classes with local manufacturers like SuperShox.
The crown jewel of manufacturing education – the College of Lake County’s new Advanced Technology Center in Grayslake — will also play a role, as students take tours of the space and learn to apply their CTE class skills in a new environment.
Curated experiences like this are certainly among the reasons that so many Lake County high school students are exploring CTE. Further growth is anticipated, with the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association (IMA) recently announcing scholarships for those earning the manufacturing career pathway endorsement.
“As manufacturers look to build a skilled workforce of the future, it’s important we work collaboratively with employers, educators, and policy makers to create chances for students to learn about manufacturing through career exploration and specialized training opportunities. The many wonderful programs available in Lake County provide a model for the rest of the state to follow,” said Sarah Hartwick, Vice President of Education & Workforce Policy at the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association and Executive Director of the IMA’s Education Foundation. “Manufacturing provides young people with safe, clean and high-wage careers, and job opportunities are abundant in exciting fields like robotics, machining, electrical vehicle production and more.”
Lake County also stands to benefit from the new Youth Systems Building Academy, which was established in December 2022 and is overseen by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Academy provides training and technical assistance to workforce systems and community partners to help them explore, design, test, implement and expand approached to workforce attraction, particularly for young workers.
Nationwide, nine communities were recently chosen by the Department of Labor to participate in the Academy, and Lake County was one of those selected. Participating partners include Lake County Workforce Development, the College of Lake County’s Indiana, Illinois and Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting, the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 150, and the Lake County’s Regional Office of Education.
The group held its first in-person session in March, and is collaborating online before the Academy convenes again later this summer. Expect to hear more on this exciting initiative as it moves forward. It is sure to have a lasting impact on Lake County’s robust talent pipeline.
*This estimate does not include Deerfield/Highland Park and Zion Benton high schools.