MT. VERNON – Local teen Jacob Williamson wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to pursue a career in mechanical engineering.
But now after working for over three months at National Railway’s Mt. Vernon facility, he has gained valuable real-world experience and is confident he’s on the right career path.
“After this experience, seeing how it really is in the workforce, I want to pursue it,” said Williamson, 17, a senior at Mt. Vernon Township High School. “It’s just stuff you can’t learn in a classroom. It’s hands-on.”
Williamson is one of two MVTHS seniors who are the first to participate in a new cooperative placement program run by the Mt. Vernon Area Vocational Center. The other student is James Campise, 17.
As part of the program, both students began working at National Railway this June. During the summer, they worked full-time, but now that school has started they work for part of the day.
The goal is to give these students a taste of what it’s really like to work in an actual engineering position, said Robert Knutson, director of the Mt. Vernon Area Vocational Center.
At this point, the program is available to Jefferson County high school juniors and seniors enrolled in Project Lead The Way courses at the AVC.
Knutson added that the program is part of a long-term effort to encourage more students to return to Mt. Vernon after college to work for local companies.
“Quite frankly, we have the talent in this area,” Knutson said. “It was just a matter of providing the opportunity for the student to learn those skills.”
With the program, Williamson has been heavily involved in redesigning parts for National Railway’s next locomotives. Working with a mentor, he has used 3D software to help modify drawings for parts that need to be redesigned.
Williamson said the placement program will definitely give him a leg-up when it comes to job applications and scholarships.
“I think it’s going to set me apart in the future,” Williamson said. “It’s definitely a huge bonus. I didn’t waste the time pursuing something I didn’t know what it was really like, so college-wise it really helped me see that I for sure wanted to do this.”
Campise is also working in mechanical engineering at National Railway, using software to aid in the design process.
“This helps a lot,” Campise said. “It gets me used to how the work would be and I get better knowledge on how people act and what they need and what they expect of you.”
Mike Cross, director of design engineering for National Railway, said it can be hard for local companies to recruit skilled workers given that Mt. Vernon’s labor pool is much smaller than the one in Chicago or in other big cities.
But with the AVC program and similar training programs offered by local community colleges, area young people are getting valuable exposure to companies like National Railway, Cross said.
“It’s worked out very well for us,” Cross said. “Both James and Jacob have proven to be pretty capable.”
After college, Williamson said he will consider coming back to Mt. Vernon to continue working for National Railway. If he does, that would be the “icing on the cake,” Knutson said.
“He’s more likely to stay and be vested in that company,” Knutson said. “Our students have never let us down when we’ve provided the correct instruction, equipment, and curriculum.”
The Area Vocational Center is looking to partner up with additional local companies to offer more placement opportunities.
For more information, contact Knutson at 246-5602, or via email at email@example.com.