Technology and Manufacturing CTE Program - Real World Learning
Norridge, IL
Ridgewood High School District
Support & Sustainability

Technology and Manufacturing CTE Program

We have developed a high-quality career and technical education (CTE) program in Technology and Manufacturing. Our local manufacturers are in need of work-ready employees, but have struggled to fill the positions because of outdated perceptions of the manufacturing field. Through partnerships with local businesses and a technical training facility, we’ve transformed students’ perceptions and provided opportunities for them to receive relevant training for local jobs while they’re still in high school.

We are currently in our fifth cohort. Each cohort has an average of 6-8 students. To date, roughly 40 students have completed this program.

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Real world learning is an experience aligned to a career path that allows students to participate in learning opportunities inside and outside of the school walls. All students will experience RWL as part of their high school experience.

Our state passed a Post-Secondary Workforce Readiness Act that includes seven career endorsement areas. The endorsement requirements for each area include: a personalized learning plan, academic competencies, a career-focused instructional sequence, and professional learning. The last two categories incorporate RWL.

Implementation: How We Did It

The challenge that led to this initiative is that we have a large number of manufacturers in our community that desperately need employees. We didn’t have the capacity to connect them with manufacturing-ready students, which led to a partnership with QCC (a manufacturing company) and the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA). The manufacturing companies send employees to TMA for training.

An obstacle we had to overcome was changing students’ perceptions of the manufacturing field. The perception was based on old-school manufacturing, which involved a lot of manual labor, whereas today’s manufacturing world is extremely high tech. We held a manufacturing career night for our students and community members who were potentially interested in the field. This allowed students and other community members in need of a job or career change to learn about and have access to local businesses and learn about hiring requirements.

We collaborated with the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) and QCC Manufacturing to create a pipeline of highly-qualified students ready to become employees. Because we do not have the resources to house manufacturing in the building, students are sent to TMA to earn NIMS credentials on Mill and Lathe. Once they earn these credentials, they go to QCC for paid internships. These students are provided with mentors matched to their personalities. Upon completion of this program, students may be offered full-time positions with benefits, as well as future educational opportunities.

The flexibility we give our students in their schedule allows them to go to TMA twice a week. This collaboration between our high school, a business, and an educational business facility gives students the opportunity to go through professional training before they graduate. This is the first time TMA has worked with high school students to help them earn credentials.
The group overseeing this work includes manufacturers, the Fluid Power Association, our high school district, one local elementary district, our local community college, TMA, and our regional Education for Employment Director. Together, we’re seeking ways to enhance students’ interest in STEM fields in grades 6-14. We’re focused on the students in our district and also looking for ways to share our expertise and resources with other districts so that more students benefit, including Chicago Public Schools.

We are working to improve not only Ridgewood High School, but also our community as a whole. The job of education includes helping students identify their interests as soon as possible. We are preparing students to be functioning citizens who can contribute to the local workforce. We are improving relationships and collaborating to solve problems and creating a model that we can emulate for future career pathways. The days of categorizing CTE and non-CTE student populations are gone. Replacing that perspective is a new lens of understanding that every student will be in a career.

Related Resources

Community Partners
Professional Learning

Community Partners

Initially, we met with one of our local manufacturers, QCC, to determine what skills were needed for students to be career ready. We used this information to help inform our graduation competencies. We then discussed how manufacturers were training their employees and learned that they send them to the Technology and Manufacturing Association (TMA). We met with TMA and QCC and developed a plan to send students directly to TMA for the necessary training to work at QCC and at other local manufacturers. We have replicated this process with other manufacturing partners.


This program integrates with our Project Lead the Way (PLTW) curriculum. We require all students to take PLTW as their freshman science course. Not only are they exposed to the manufacturing field and a fluid power curriculum; they also receive dual credit with our local community college. Through this initial course and other components of the career pathway, students are able to make the connections between what they’re learning in school and a professional future.


Students demonstrate career readiness skills as part of their graduation requirements. To date, all students who have participated in this pathway have been offered employment upon completion of their internship experience. Not all of the students have accepted positions, for example, those who realized that the field was not for them and sought different career paths. As a result of this program, attendance has increased to over 90 percent.

Professional Learning

We have educated our counselors on the field of manufacturing. Counselors have taken field trips to both TMA and QCC to better understand the field as well as the expectations of students in the program. Additionally, our science teachers have been trained on how to use equipment from the Fluid Power Association and embed training into our existing curriculum. This training occurs at our local community college over the summer, with staff and instructors from the Fluid Power Association to give teachers enough time to prepare for the necessary curricular changes.

Support Structures

We identified a gap in preparing our students for local job opportunities. We worked with the local businesses, a training facility, and teachers to build this program. We have to be flexible with scheduling, because the students travel to TMA two days a week for three hours for one semester. During the second semester, students have paid internships throughout the school day. They are held to the same attendance standards as other employees. Students just learn to budget their time and coordinate with teachers for work missed while they are out of the building.

We received some funding from the TMA Foundation. Additionally, our local manufacturers have reached out to manufacturers in other regions and asked them to sponsor students to help cover the costs of the program and transportation to the training site. The other manufacturers realize that they will see a return on their investment when we send our graduates to them with employment-ready skills.

The Future of this Work

We will need to find a way to continue funding this program. Because we are such a small district, there aren’t many students interested in the manufacturing field. We need to better inform and educate students and families earlier in their academic careers, so that they have more options to consider and better understand the benefits of the program prior to entering high school.

Manufacturing isn’t our only CTE pathway. We are developing pathways in all of the endorsement areas. For our Education pathway, we are partnering with other schools to arrange for our students to complete their student teaching requirements. In Health Administration, we have developed a relationship with a local hospital. This year, we also launched an Entrepreneurship pathway.

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