Rick Prinze of Nature’s Perspective and Jennifer Kalas of IRMCO on Manufacturing Day, Oct. 3. RoundTable photo

Evanston news delivered free to your inbox! 

Manufacturing here is found for the most part in businesses between Dempster and Lee streets west of Dodge Avenue located one mile from Downtown Evanston. Such products as optical glass, dies and metal stamping, brushless alternators and freshly baked cookies are created for the most part in this corner of Evanston.

What manufacturing jobs the future will hold for the coming generations – and the knowledge and skills they will need – was the subject of a recent discussion. On National Manufacturing Day, Oct. 3, representatives of several West End businesses met with local and state elected officials at Irmco, 2117 Greenleaf St., for breakfast and conversation before they hosted 90 middle-school students at their companies.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl referred to the speech given by President Barack Obama at Northwestern University the day before, which noted the need to create jobs in this country, and said, “We’re working on manufacturing here, to bring back jobs from China.”

State Representative Robyn Gabel said, “At the state level, we have been promoting manufacturing. We all know the only way [out of the current financial squeeze] is to have skilled jobs and jobs that pay a fair wage. … It’s really important for high school kids to have a path toward a career. The relationship between business and high schools and community colleges [is important]. We here in Evanston are a leading force in the state.”

Tom Ward of Ward Manufacturing said he was among a group of manufacturer invited recently to speak at Evanston Township High School, “to give our advice and thoughts” about the future of manufacturing. The focus of the meeting, he said, was “What are we going to do with that group of kids who are not going to college? … if we don’t expose them to a real and viable option, then we’re not doing our jobs.”

State Senator Daniel Biss said, “For well over a decade there has been chatter about the opportunities offered by manufacturers to those with no college degree and … how attractive that field can be.” He asked the company executives whether they had seen that attitude in the high school students.

Mr. Ward said many parents have been reluctant to accept the idea that a young person who does not go to college can still make a good living. “[The idea] is brand new. Parents have no idea [about that type of career]. It’s ‘Either you’re going to a four-year college or you’re nothing.’”

Jean Kroll of I Love Sweets/Sugar & Spice Extraordinary Sweet Treats, said, “When people look at manufacturing they think ‘You’re going to get your hands dirty [but manufacturing today] is all technology-driven. … It’s becoming sexy – there are really career opportunities.”

Mr. Ward said when he gives talks to students, “I always ask the question ‘How many of your parents are in manufacturing?’ No one raises their hand, so I go deeper: ‘How many of your parents are in sales? In engineering?’“  He said that usually brings the lesson home. “It’s so powerful to understand that the manufacturing of today is not what it was yesterday.”

Ms. Kroll said, “It’s almost a redefining. What we need to be selling to the kids is what it is now – full of opportunity.”

A Future in Evanston

A willingness to work hard seemed to be the main criterion of the company representataives at the Oct. 3 Manufacturing Day breakfast.

Jennifer Kalas, president of Irmco, said the company works with Evanston Township High School and the Youth Job Center and will hire young men and women “right out of high school. Our big thing is finding someone who wants to work. It’s really nice when we find a fit.”

Similarly, Paul Klitzkie and Rick Prinze of Nature’s Perspective Landcaping said the company offers internships. “Every year we try to get a local kid to work in the nursery or in the office. … We always find that those kids have a lot of potential and are willing to work hard,” said Mr. Klitzkie. 

Evanston Township High School officials have expressed the idea that even students who do not attend a four-year college still will need some post-secondary training or education to earn a good living. Several career-oriented courses are offered at ETHS through Oakton Community College.

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...