SOUTH ELGIN – Hailey Harden is in her second year studying precision machining at South Elgin High School. The high school junior raised eyebrows earlier this month when she won first place in NIMS Intermediate Division at the Technology & Manufacturing Association’s 27th annual Precision Machining Competition.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career, so as a freshman, I was looking through what was offered at South Elgin, and I saw ‘production tech,’” Hailey said. “’Ok,’ I thought, this is kinda cool.”
Once she got into class starting her sophomore year, Hailey says, she thought the class none of her friends was interested in was fun. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into, but I it didn’t take long for me to realize I really loved it,” she said. Not only did Hailey love precision machining, she found she was really good at it.
Russ Bartz, Hailey’s production tech instructor, said he saw that as one of two girls in the program, Hailey was a natural in the class. Bartz said he encourages all his students to take on projects affiliated with the National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) program. If they excel with those projects, they’re automatically prepared to take a NIMS test and earn certification for that field of machining.
South Elgin is a select high school that through its curriculum and instructor’s credentials has earned credentials to partner with the national assessment program for metalworking skills. Bartz himself was a machine operator for 20 years and accumulated six NIMS credentials, while he studied for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, qualifying him to teach high school. After 13 years of developing the program, Bartz now has almost 40 students in production tech. Over the years, Bartz says his students acquired scholarships from the Haas Foundation, while others launched careers where the employer pays for education and training. Still other students are attending four-year colleges for degrees in mechanical engineering.
Hailey says she’s interested in pursuing a manufacturing career, most likely in CNC programming. However, she’s open to other career paths in manufacturing – and as a woman, she’s a segment of society more and more company owners are reaching out to in order to fill the industry’s nationwide growing skills gap. “It’s hard to get promotion for production tech,” Bartz said. “There’s an impression that going into trades will limit education. That’s simply not true.” The opportunities to be trained, learn and compete are more and more all the time, Bartz said.
And that’s good for students like Hailey Harden. She not only won first place in her division among over 250 high school students at TMA’s precision machining competition, she won 5th place statewide in the Skills USA competition this year. The classes have changed not only Hailey’s thoughts for a career, but the way she looks at the world. “After taking this class, I can look at stuff and think about the process it would take to make it, that’s different from the way I used to see the world,” she said.
About TMA: Founded in 1925, the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) represents and supports manufacturers in the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding counties in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. TMA has almost 1,000 members and represents over 32,000 employees and nearly 26M square feet of manufacturing in Illinois.