STREATOR, ILL. - Tom Hallam, who teaches five courses a year in plastics technology, passionately believes that field is the wave of the future. ``This is where the jobs are when [students] graduate from high school,'' he said. ``They're not going to get a job anymore running punch presses or building cabinets. If they're going to find a good job in industry, it's going to be related to plastics.''
Since 1973, when he was hired out of Western Illinois University to be a vocational teacher at Streator High School, he has made plastics the most popular of all vocational programs. This year, more than 230 youngsters will take the courses designed to enable them to get plastics industry jobs ``two or three steps higher than someone off the streets.''
Twenty-two years ago, Hallam began ``kind of small, with a nine-week orientation course.''
The next year, he expanded it to a full semester, covering injection molding, blow molding, thermoforming and compression molding.
``As the years went by, I built it up to the point where now we're doing some aspect of every major process in the industry today,'' he said.
As a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers, Hallam has been able to get equipment under a fund-matching arrangement.
He now is teaching his second advanced course, for seniors, which includes designing in thermoforming, using foundry processes.
``We melt aluminum down and make sand molds of our products and study principles of drafting,'' Hallam said. ``We are also involved in silicone molding. I have some students right now finishing up making some very intricate molds.''
Hallam, who worked at a blown film extrusion plant in Chicago after high school, majored in vocational education at Western Illinois, where he took a course in plastics technology. When he started at Streator, he taught welding, auto mechanics and drafting, but gave up those subjects to teach five courses in plastics at every class level.
He has helped place students at plastics companies throughout the area, 90 miles southwest of Chicago. Some other vocational courses, such as metalworking, have been phased out because of lack of student interest.
``Plastics, however, has been going gangbusters,'' he said. ``It's a fun course for the kids and they get an awful lot of experience that's going to be helpful for them.''