On Thursday, March 16, ECC hosted an early morning breakfast event for notable community members including several local leaders in manufacturing. Shortly after, Illinois’ 8th District Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi took the stage to present ECC with $936,000 in federal funding for its new mechatronics and automation program.
Careers in manufacturing have evolved and Elgin Community College’s new $55 million manufacturing center intends to bridge the gap between prospective technicians and the workforce. 
“I’m so proud that we were able to secure this money in a bipartisan fashion,” Krishnamoorthi said. “There have been tremendous reforms to make sure that money goes to projects that receive wide stakeholder support on a bipartisan basis and that’s exactly why this money was awarded here.”
The federal funds will go towards the purchase of mechatronics and automation trainers with autonomous robotics conveyors and palletizers. 
Mechatronics is an interdisciplinary branch of engineering that refers to the skills required for advanced automated manufacturing. The course is currently offered at ECC in a self-paced, open-enrollment online environment over a 12-month period. It covers a wide array of skills including electrical, fluid, and mechanical systems as well as math, welding and quality inspection.
“It’s like an assembly line that folks can actually work on here at ECC to prepare for the jobs that are out there in the region,” Krishnamoorthi said. “We know that we have a shortage of talent in this particular area so what you’re doing is you’re helping to fill the vacancies that exist today in the workforce for people in the mechatronics and automation field.” 
Earlier that morning, attendees engaged in group discussions and shared their ideas on ways to improve ECC’s manufacturing programs. They highlighted industry demand for CNC programming, building automation, electrical and machine operation. One major topic was the improvement of the public’s concept of American manufacturing. 
“We’re trying to change the perception with our work within high schools and community colleges,” said Dawn Curran, executive director of the Greater Chicago Advanced Manufacturing Partnership. “We’ve got a new awards program celebrating an outstanding manufacturing student and an outstanding manufacturing educator. We know that without the educators, there’s no future in manufacturing.”
Terry Iverson, founder of CHAMPION Now, publishes books, videos and podcasts to educate students and parents about modern careers in manufacturing and update their perception of the industry.
“I have put a lot of effort and time in trying to fight the perception and give people, parents especially, educators and industry members resources that can help change that,” Iverson said.
Several attendees were eager to donate machinery and communicate industry needs with faculty to help shape new manufacturing and automation programs. At this time, ECC is the only community college in the area that has three axis, five axis, seven axis and nine axis CNC machines. Thirteen companies currently sponsor apprentice students enrolled in the maintenance tech program. 
ECC will continue to partner with industry professionals and local leaders such as Rep. Krishnamoorthi to help shape the future of careers in manufacturing in the Greater Elgin area.
“The more that we are investing in this program, the more employers will come to want to be located near successful programs like this,” Krishnamoorthi said. “As a consequence, the whole community grows. Investments like this are crucial for us to turn talk into action.”

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