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Businesses get boost to join CLC’s apprenticeship program, develop manufacturing workforce

by Public Relations and Marketing | Published Mar 17, 2021

Through a new partnership with MxD (Manufacturing x Digital), College of Lake County (CLC) received a $244,000 grant to expand its apprenticeship program. MxD, which received funding for the grant from Siemens Foundation, is working to build factories of the future and equip the manufacturing workforce with the knowledge and expertise needed to run them.  

CNC MachineTheir grant focuses on paying the fee and student stipend for two of CLC’s apprenticeship programs: Automation, Robotics and Mechatronics (ARM) and Computer Numerical Controls (CNC). The funds will also be used to develop a pipeline of talented youth and young adults with manufacturing career interest into ARM and CNC and help integrate cybersecurity content into the college’s manufacturing curriculum. These dollars are already being put to work in the Lake County community, as seen in Beach Park.

Photo: CLC apprentice Jesse Navarro operates a CNC machine at Leppala Machining

“We do anything you can think of from construction to medical to motors, even parts for grills. We’re making something different pretty much every week,” said Duane Leppala, owner of Leppala Machining. 

Leppala MachiningYou have likely never heard of Duane Leppala or Leppala Machining. His shop is small, somewhat hidden and does no advertising. Yet inside you find multiple CNC machines and employees who are ready to grow in the profession.

Photo: a view from above of part of Leppala's CNC shop

“When I came here it was the first time I’d ever seen one of these. All through high school I didn’t even know what a CNC machine was,” said Jesse Navarro. 

Photo of Jesse NavarroAfter graduating high school in Kenosha, Navarro (right) spent years working general factory jobs. Then he married Leppala’s daughter and started working with her father. However, there is only so much one can learn on the job before something more structured is required. 44 years ago, Leppala began his career as an apprentice, so when he read an article about CLC launching an apprenticeship program he saw it as an answer. 

“Being that we’re a small shop, I couldn’t afford to pay the costs of the program. I just don’t have that kind of cash flow coming in,” said Leppala. “I called to ask how we get setup with an apprenticeship. I thought my shop wasn’t big enough. I thought they’d be dealing with the bigger corporations.” 

Leppala Machining 2While CLC’s program does have partners such as global company Aon, no business is too small to employ an apprentice. When Leppala spoke with CLC apprenticeship manager Dan Ortego on the phone, Ortego didn’t turn him away. In fact, when the MxD grant came in to boost ARM and CNC he gave Leppala a call. Then spring 2021, Navarro became a CLC apprentice and his dreams have grown alongside his education. 

“Right now, my main goal is to finish the apprenticeship,” said Navarro. “After that I may get into some form of engineering, maybe robotics and automation or aerospace. Or maybe I’ll do something like Duane and run my own shop.” 

In addition to supporting apprenticeships like Navarro’s, the MxD grant helps establish an apprenticeship program bootcamp. Here, high school graduates, returning adult students and incumbent workers from Waukegan, North Chicago, Zion-Benton, Fox Lake and Round Lake will learn first-hand what apprenticeships are all about, helping to increase awareness of the opportunities at CLC. 

About CLC’s Apprenticeship Program: 

Started in Aug. 2020, CLC’s apprenticeship program is a structured “Learn and Earn” curriculum which combines job related classroom learning along with structured on–the-job training guided by a mentor. These programs offer employers the opportunity to strengthen and build their workforce by developing a tailored high-quality talent pipeline. The goal for apprenticeship programs is to provide workers with a set of skills that meet the specific needs of local employers using a flexible learning approach. Currently the college offers apprenticeships in six fields of interest: automotive, business, healthcare, horticulture, information technology and manufacturing. 

About College of Lake County: 

College of Lake County is a comprehensive community college committed to equitable high-quality education, cultural enrichment and partnerships to advance the diverse communities it serves in northeastern Illinois. Offered at three campuses in Grayslake, Vernon Hills and Waukegan or online, college classes are affordable and accessible to help each student achieve academic, career and personal goals. More than 70,000 students graduated with degrees and certificates since the college opened in 1969. The College of Lake County is the only higher-education institution ranked among the top 15 best places to work in Illinois by Forbes and is a national leader in many areas, including sustainability and conservation. Learn more at or call (847) 543-2000. 

About MxD:

MxD (Manufacturing times Digital) is where innovative manufacturers go to forge their futures. In partnership with the U.S. Department of Defense, MxD equips its more than 300 members with the digital tools and expertise they need to begin building every part better than the last. MxD operates from a state-of-the-art innovation center near downtown Chicago. Its 22,000-square-foot factory floor features some of the most advanced manufacturing equipment in the world. MxD Learn, the institute’s workforce development arm, fosters collaboration across industry, academia, government, and non-profit leadership to develop the workforce needed for digital and cybersecurity applications in manufacturing.