SYCAMORE – Will Nalley said he’s a proud “gearhead” as he and his friend, and fellow Sycamore High School junior, Ryan Kessler toured Auto Meter Productions Inc. in Sycamore.
“This is my first time, and I’m kind of a real big gearhead,” Nalley, 16, said Friday while standing on the Auto Meter manufacturing floor. “It’s kind of cool to see how all the gauges and vehicles are made.”
A group of 17 Sycamore High students, from freshmen to seniors, toured the manufacturing floors of IDEAL Industries Inc. and Auto Meter on Friday as part of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp.’s seventh annual Heavy Metal Tour. The tour is held as part of National Manufacturing Day.
Gene Fogle, DCEDC’s industrial workforce coordinator, organized manufacturing tours for 117 students from Sycamore, DeKalb, Rochelle, Genoa-Kingston and Hiawatha high schools, as well as the Kishwaukee Education Consortium. Students were taken through the plant to see firsthand the types of careers they could pursue after graduation.
“Seven years ago, area manufacturers met with educators because the entry-level applicants just didn’t measure up,” Fogle said. “I was hired to help bring soft skills, essential skills awareness, exposure to the jobs in the area and help point students that were not necessarily collegebound in a direction where they could get some sort of certification and build some kind of career.”
Auto Meter’s 32,000-square-foot manufacturing facility makes parts for pressure gauges and digital gauges for vehicle manufacturers, among other automotive equipment.
Nalley said he wants to pursue a career as a mechanic after high school.
“I was always raised around drag racing and racing at the [Sycamore] Speedway,” Nalley said. “So I would definitely want to do that more, and get into this kind of field.”
The 218,000-square-foot IDEAL manufacturing plant produces connectors, hand tools, testers and meters for the electrical and telecommunications industries. During the tour, students saw how IDEAL makes wire cutters, from coating the parts with black oxide to packaging the finished tools for sale. Some of the tools, which sell for $25, were included in the toolkit for space shuttles, facilities manager Steve Challgren said.
“IDEAL’s been around for 103 years,” said Challgren, who has worked at IDEAL for 16 years. “It’s still a family-owned company. Our owner says we invest by generations.”
Kessler, 16, said he also was raised around cars and currently is fixing up a 1986 Chevrolet Suburban. He said he wants to get a degree at Kishwaukee Community College, but he works out of state.
“I want to go into the welding or machine field,” Kessler said. “If I go into a trade, I was thinking about becoming a millwright. That’s the general idea, but I feel like, in this field, there’s a lot of room for flexibility.”
Mary Grimes, a counselor at Sycamore, said many people, including herself, might not be aware of local opportunities.
“The idea is to understand that there are career opportunities that don’t require you to have a four-year degree right away,” Grimes said. “And that you can work your way up from an entry-level job to moving up to something more still, which is supported by the businesses because they want to support local people.”
Fogle, who spent 40 years in the printing industry, said he wants to encourage students to plan for their future before they graduate.
“What I want students to do is to see the different vocations that are available to them in DeKalb County,” he said, “and be aware of the decisions they make in high school.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle