Seven years ago, Otto Engineering Inc. started partnering with a local high school near the company's headquarters in Carpentersville, Ill., on a work-study training program. Seniors could enroll in the program during their second semester, spending one hour a day gaining experience at Otto while earning school credit. The curriculum covered everything from business ethics and reading a blueprint to how to solder.
"I would guarantee the student a job when he [or she] graduated high school," Tom Roeser, president of Otto Engineering, said in a telephone interview.
"An example of somebody who went through that program is a young man who works for us today," Roeser continued. "He's 28 years old. He started that way, and he makes $75,000 [a year]."
Otto, a vertically integrated manufacturing company that employs 500, makes industrial controls and audio accessories for demanding applications in heavy equipment, aerospace, marine, medical, communications and other markets. Everything is done in-house, including injection molding, stamping, CNC machining, cable assembly and cable overmolding.
Roeser's father, Jack, started the company in 1961 in the basement of his Park Ridge, Ill., home with an initial investment of $5,000. Using his previous experience with the military, business and engineering, Jack designed and sold pushbutton and rotary switches. Roeser joined the company in 1987 as general manager, assuming responsibility of the company's daily activities.
Today, the top 100 employees with some college education average $131,000 in their paychecks, Roeser said.
"But the top 100 employees [without a college degree] average $78,000," he added. "And these are good jobs and typical middle America jobs."