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College not the only path

Local manufacturers aim to provide often overlooked well-paid jobs

Site manager John Cardoni explains how Aux Sable creates liquid natural gas to Grundy County Educators.
Site manager John Cardoni explains how Aux Sable creates liquid natural gas to Grundy County Educators.

MORRIS – This time, it was the teachers going on a field trip as area educators attended the Grundy County Manufacturers Tour on Wednesday.

The daylong trip was put together by the Grundy Area Vocational Center and included stops at large manufacturing businesses such as Dresden Generating Station, Metalstamp, Aux Sable and LyondellBasell.

The goal of the tour was to expose local educators to the wide range of manufacturing jobs that are available to students and young adults in Grundy County, said Megan Borchers, public relations lead for LyondellBasell.

“We wanted to come together and help educate the educators about the manufacturing careers right here in their backyard,” Borchers said.

Morris, Minooka, Coal City and Gardner-South Wilmington high schools were represented on the trip. GAVC engineering teacher Timothy McDavid said he hoped to bring some information back to his students.

“I want to see what [Grundy companies] are looking for so I can inform my kids and help them develop bridges,” McDavid said.

At every stop on the tour, manufacturing professionals reinforced two main points: That students don’t necessarily need a four-year degree to land a good-paying job, and the importance of math and science proficiency.

“When we talk about math for vocational education, we’re not talking about Calculus 7 or Algebra 5. We’re talking about being really good at converting fractions and measurements. Knowing the square root of numbers off the top of your head,” GAVC director Lance Copes said.
“A lot of times we have to reteach fractions to juniors and seniors because it’s been so long since they practiced them.”

The first stop of the tour was at Dresden Generating Station, where operations training manager J. Mike Condreay led educators in a presentation on nuclear power. He labeled the process by which steam rotates the turbine as “spiny spiny” and invited the educators to say it with him.

After several attempts, the educators complied.

Condreay said nuclear power makes 48% of Illinois’ energy and
90% of its carbon-free energy. Dresden employs a wide range of operators, engineers, IT and security personnel. Condreay went on to highlight the many opportunities for young people to start their careers in the nuclear energy field, such as internships and partnership training programs with JJC.

Near the end of the presentation, Condreay mentioned that Dresden will lose its license for both of its nuclear reactors by 2031 unless the State of Illinois changes its relicensing law.

Senior nuclear site communications specialist Sara Peters also commented on the future of the facility.

“We have every intention to extend our licenses. We need market energy reform,” Peters said.

Next on the tour was a stop at Metalstamp, a design, stamping and tool manufacturing facility in Minooka. Many of the products created at Metalstamp are used in car engines. Educators were split into groups of eight and given tools by some of the senior staff.

“A lot of people don’t have a clue how this stuff is made,” engineering manager Steve Benson said.

Benson led a group through a room full of colossal machines that punched and folded sheets of metal into delicate bits of product. As is the case with the other manufacturers, Benson reiterated the importance of math education.

“Employees need to have a good knowledge of math and some need to take a class on dimensional metrology,” Benson said.

Dimensional metrology is the science of calibration and measurement.

Following Metalstamp was natural gas company Aux Sable. Site manager John Cardoni led educators on a bus tour that weaved in and out of a giant jungle gym of white pipes used to transport gas.

Cardoni explained the process by which the facility takes natural gas and changes it into liquid form. He also pointed out the many different careers needed to get that job done, including operators, welders, plumbers, engineers and many others.

“I’m not going to sugarcoat this. These are crazy great jobs,” Cardoni said.

The tour wrapped up with a presentation at plastic, chemical and refinery company LyondellBasell, where site manager Randy Tatum explained the many types of careers available to young people at the facility.

“About 20 years ago we, as a society, started forcing all our kids to go to college to get four-year degrees. We told them that otherwise they wouldn’t get a good career,” Tatum said. “That was a mistake. Our employees in maintenance and the trades have excellent careers.”

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