Laser Precision and Mundelein High School Partner for Manufacturing Internship Program

At Laser Precision, we take a proactive approach to anything that challenges our successful operations. To that end, we took action on one of the greatest obstacles for the manufacturing industry today: the lack of a robust skilled labor force.

When Kim Wimer, our Human Resources Manager, joined us in 2017, she immediately focused on building a long-term pipeline of talent to fill positions as needed. To accomplish this, she found local community resources, including the Lake County Technology Campus and the College of Lake County (see “How We Work to Fill the Skills Gap”). Hearing of our efforts, Larry Calhoun, Department Chair of Fine and Applied Arts at Mundelein High School, reached out to Kim to see if a collaboration would be mutually beneficial.

Teaming Up

Larry is the perfect partner for preparing high school students for careers in manufacturing. A college athlete, he worked in IT for companies such as Dupont, Mobil and IBM before starting his own consulting business. A friend asked him to help coach the Mundelein High School football team. “I fell in love with the idea of helping kids,” he said. After starting at Mundelein as the Head Coach, he soon worked himself into the classroom. “One of our jobs as educators is to prepare students for life after school,” he said. “I saw a disconnect between industry and education and set out to find ways to make the high school experience more responsive to the job market.”

Kim and Larry acknowledged that this would not be a normal academic endeavor. A steering committee was formed with our other Lake County partners to fill in the details of an internship program for Mundelein students. “We leaned heavily on Laser Precision to determine what the students needed and how to provide them with the proper tools,” Larry said. “They were very instrumental in putting the package together.” The end result was a two-semester program open to all students who would be 18 years old in the second semester.

How It Works

In the first semester, students spend two periods a day at the College of Lake County taking courses in Manual Machining, CNC Operations and Blueprint Reading. The semester also includes a class in workplace expectations, which focuses on writing resumes, workplace etiquette, communicating with supervisors and other elements of a routine day in a manufacturing environment.

The second semester begins with an interview at Laser Precision to ensure the student will be a good fit with the company culture. Once accepted, the student becomes an actual part-time employee. They work three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday). During their experience, they are rotated through four departments: Quality Control, CNC Machining, Powder Coating and Shipping. “Along with actual working experience that comes from being in a manufacturing environment, we want to give students a feel for the life of a part as it is completed in each operation,” Kim said.

Students receive dual high school and college credits for this program, which can not only be applied to two- and four-year college degrees, but also to advanced manufacturing certification programs.

The internship program began in the Fall of 2019 with four students but was modified to be more of a part-time job opportunity due to the COVID pandemic. Three participants entered the program in the Fall of 2020. Upon graduation from high school in May of 2021, two students opted to continue working at Laser Precision in a full-time capacity.

A Solid Career Alternative

Not all parents are immediately sold on the idea of their children considering manufacturing as a career choice. “The education sector did a great job selling the four-year college as the preferred option,” Larry said. “The system is still struggling to a certain extent with what to do with students who are not inclined to follow that route.” The internship program is one method designed to show that these are lucrative long-term career paths.

A lot of stigmas are still associated with manufacturing. “Many parents are concerned that factories are dark and dirty or that automation will soon put their sons and daughters out of their jobs,” Kim said. “One way we counter this is to invite the parents in for a tour of our facilities.”

As a student transitions to full-time employment, they are entitled to benefits that include a Tuition Reimbursement Program, where employees are encouraged to attend supplemental educational programs while working, and pursue an education without incurring a large amount of debt. “Our employee benefits package is another factor that really impresses parents,” Kim said.

The Right Environment

“The culture of Laser Precision creates the perfect setting for students to learn about manufacturing,” Larry said. “There was no hesitation in bringing young people into the shop.”

Kim talked to the floor supervisors and let them know what the long-term goals were. “Our employees are used to outreach programs,” she said. “Most of our supervisory level employees have been here a long time and started their own careers on the shop floor and then moved up. They know what it’s like to grow into new responsibilities.”

The Benefits

Students earn good money during the second semester of the internship, but gain much more. “I try to undersell the financial aspect and push the experience,” Larry said. “Parents also tell me they see growth in their children in areas that are not even related to work such as attitude, communication and problem solving.”

“We gained two new employees that are proven performers and have already added value to our operations,” Kim said. “This result is welcomed at a time when good employees are so hard to find.”

“Even if a participant goes on to a four-year college and doesn’t land in manufacturing, it’s still a win,” Larry said. “At the end of the day, we’ve helped create a well-rounded individual with skill sets that will serve them well no matter what career path they choose.”

Building the Future Together

“We are not educators, we are a for-profit business,” Kim said. “But our partners in the education system are helping build a talent pipeline that will help keep our operations functioning at full capacity.”

Whether you are a student or already in the workplace and looking for a change, manufacturing is a great opportunity. If Laser Precision sounds like a place where you might like to work, check out our Careers Page. We’d love to talk to you.