Beginning next year, selected high school students in McHenry County in northeastern Illinois will spend their afternoons taking plastics courses and working at local factories.
Processors in the fast-growing county between Chicago and Rockford want to ``grow their own'' plastics technicians to ease a worker shortage.
``The demand in McHenry County for adequately trained employees is very high,'' said Jim Van Bosch, coordinator of the tech prep program for the county. He works at McHenry Community College in Crystal Lake, Ill.
Organizers hope to begin the program, for juniors and seniors, at eight high schools in the fall. There are about 20 plastics processors in the county, most of them injection molders, Van Bosch said.
SeaquistPerfect Dispensing of Cary, Ill., is donating classroom space at its plant. Courses will be held three days of the week. The other two days, students will be placed at a local molding company, where they will get paid for their work.
After the high school program gets started, the next phase will be to create an adult education degree program at McHenry Community College. Van Bosch said the college is seeking donated machinery. To fit inside the facility, the machines cannot have clamping forces of more than 100 tons, he said.
The effort began about two years ago, spearheaded by officials at SeaquistPerfect Dispensing, which injection molds and assembles aerosol valves and finger spray pumps in Cary, Ill. Rob Revak, director of human resources, called the community college, then started calling other area molders.
``Over the years we all have had an increasingly difficult time finding plastic molding technicians,'' Revak said.
From a 35-person brainstorming session in 1995, a planning committee was formed that included company representatives, the college and local high schools. Five Illinois processors are represented on the committee: SeaquistPerfect; Sage Products Inc. of Crystal Lake; Knight Engineering and Plastics, Woodstock; Automated Mould, a Richco Inc. division in Richmond; and Intermatic Inc. of Spring Grove.
Van Bosch said the next step is hiring a teacher and getting Board of Education approval.
Van Bosch, who took his current job after retiring as vocational director at Johnsburg High School, said young people need to know they can make good money in the plastics industry.
Often, he said, U.S. vocational schools are geared toward students who have a hard time academically. But the McHenry County plastics program wants to attract mid-level students, who will develop math, science and computer skills.