Lake County’s Secret Weapon in Filling Manufacturing Jobs

It’s a truth we at Laser Precision work hard to shout from the rooftops: manufacturing jobs are available, lucrative and incredibly satisfying (we’re hiring, by the way). Truth be told, when it comes to recruiting efforts and helping young professionals build manufacturing careers, Laser Precision—and all of Lake County, Illinois—has a secret weapon by the name of Gina Schuyler.

Gina, CTE Department Chair for Careers and Community Partnerships at Grayslake Community High School District 127, has been a driving force in this effort for almost 25 years.

Her experience encompasses many of the aspects of the Lake County manufacturing careers program, so we asked her to take us through the evolution of student/workforce development at the regional and national level.

The Eye-Opening Beginning

Gina’s first position was instructing high school students how to become teachers themselves. “One of my core beliefs was that each pupil should shadow a teacher and do an internship to gain practical experience,” she said. “This philosophy would carry over to when I became involved in manufacturing.”

While working on her master’s degree, Gina first learned about Career Technical Education (CTE), which is the practice of teaching specific career skills to students in middle school, high school and post-secondary institutions. She realized this was an area of education that she had never been exposed to in high school. “I saw the need for a workforce pipeline in Lake County and realized the benefits industry-specific training could have for many students who might not be inclined to attend a four-year college after graduation,” Gina said. This prompted her to take action to make CTE available to a wider range of students.

She began by going to manufacturers and learning about machining equipment and how to operate it. “I wanted to learn by doing and finding out for myself what teaching methods worked or did not work in a manufacturing environment.”   

Lake County Technical Campus

In 1999, Gina joined the staff of Lake County Technical Campus. Regarded as one of the best career and technical education training institutions in the Midwest, the facility is an extension site of many area high schools for Juniors and Seniors to attend classes in a specific career training program. Her work included designing a program for students of all learning styles and abilities to gain hands-on experiences and apply learning skills in a lab setting using business, industry and community college collaboration efforts.

“I oversaw workforce development, then career and technical grants, and I applied the model I had as a teacher, job shadowing and internships, schoolwide,” she said. “I also coordinated with the Lake County Workforce Development Board, Lake County Partners and local businesses. That’s how I became involved with Laser Precision and their Human Resources Manager, Kim Wimer.”

Partnering with Laser Precision

“Kim and I work well together and Laser Precision loves to talk about manufacturing as a career. Their family-owned atmosphere makes them natural teachers and mentors.”

Gina told us that Kim always says “yes, and” no matter how crazy the idea. “She fully understands the breadth of the pipeline and adapts quite easily as needed. There’s nothing I suggest that doesn’t go over well with Laser Precision.

“Other shops look at Laser Precision and wonder how they get all those students to work for them. The fact is Laser Precision is a leader in partnering for work-based learning.”

Continuing the Work

In 2019, Gina took her current position at Grayslake Community High School District 127, where she continues to promote Career and Technical Education offerings while connecting business and industry to the classroom. Here’s a look at a few of the programs she helps coordinate.

Nuts, Bolts and Thingamajigs®

(NBT) is a sponsorship through the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International® (FMA).  Its purpose is to expose students to the world of manufacturing and to encourage the pursuit of a manufacturing career. NBT provides hands-on experience in a summer camp format.

This year’s inaugural summer project for students at Grayslake High School, named D127 Dream, Design & Create Manufacturing Camp, was to design and make balance boards featuring an intricate maze decoration in the center. They used Fusion 360 commercial computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing, then saw their finished designs come to life on CNC machines.

A requirement of the camp is a partner visit to a working manufacturing facility. Laser Precision hosted the event, giving many of the students their first look at a modern fabrication operation.

The Career Z Challenge

The Career Z Challenge is sponsored by The U.S. Department of Education. It is an open innovation prize competition seeking creative solutions to expand student access to high-quality work-based learning opportunities.

Semi-finalists and finalists will be eligible to receive targeted technical assistance including professional development support, webinars and training, networking with a community of peers, as well as a portion of a $2.5 million prize pool. The program is ongoing, and results will be announced at some time in the future.

Youth Systems Building Academy

Lake County Workforce Development was selected to participate in the kickoff of the Youth Systems Building Academy sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. It was quite the accomplishment, considering just 9 out of 50 U.S. counties who applied were selected.

It was held in Washington, D.C. on March 7-9, 2023. Gina was part of the Department of Labor team that put together CTE content for the event.

“The Academy was a very impactful experience with both local and national ripple effects,” she said. “One session made us realize we could improve our ecosystem by making sure we have the students’ voice and choice in our programming.” Based on this ah-ha moment, middle school students attending the next NBT summer camp will have options for what they would like to design.

Career Pathway Endorsement Project

Illinois’ College and Career Pathway Endorsements (CCPE) system was designed to increase the number of Illinois high school graduates prepared for postsecondary education and future careers. To earn an Endorsement on a high school diploma and transcript, a student must complete an individualized learning plan, engage in a career-focused instructional sequence (including early college credit) and participate in work-based learning.

“Grayslake High School was a pilot school for the program,” Gina said. “The goal is for schools to have one Endorsement by 2027. We already have 19 at this time.”

What's Next

She’s already accomplished so much, but Gina is nowhere near done yet. She’s proud to be one of the first teachers in Lake County to achieve nationwide Board Certification, allowing her the opportunity to share her knowledge with a wider audience.

“I just want students to know there is more out there than they may know about,” she said. “They may like it, they may not. But at least they will be empowered to make a more informed decision on the career path they want to take.”

Music to our ears, and it’s why we love working with Gina and Lake County to help students discover a job that can spark a lifelong career.