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Illinois Community Colleges Lead Workforce Development Efforts

State community colleges work with businesses and economic developers to keep the pipeline of talent flowing to growing industries.

By Teree Caruthers on May 26, 2017

Illinois Workforce Development
Staff Photo

While its universities are world leaders in all facets of research, Illinois’ higher education institutions also provide another vital role – helping to train the state’s workforce to meet employer needs.

More than 59 percent of residents have some education beyond high school, and nearly half of the state’s workers are skilled professionals. A driving force behind these impressive figures is the state’s network of 48 community and technical colleges and the public-private partnerships formed to ensure a steady pipeline of talent flows to in-demand industries.

Growing the Right Way

The College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, for example, educates roughly 28,000 students per semester, making it the second-largest provider of undergraduate education in the state. The college offers nine degree and 178 certificate programs, ranging from accounting to welding to zoology. In the last five years, the number of degrees and certificates the college awards has increased by 21.5 percent.

“We focus on workforce and economic development through education, training and a host of services,” says Joseph Moore, vice president of marketing and communications for the College of DuPage. “We have educated more than 1 million residents in our 50-year history. The college adds skills to our workforce and boosts the competitiveness of area businesses, and our graduates generate millions of dollars in local, state and federal tax revenues.”

Moore says the college not only increases earnings for graduates, but as a major employer itself, it has generated millions of dollars in local sales and wages and has created an estimated 2,500 jobs.

Beyond traditional education options, the College of DuPage Continuing Education offers an additional 3,750 courses per year, employs more than 600 adjunct faculty and serves more than 23,000 non-traditional students with both personal enrichment and professional development courses and programs.

“We offer courses at more than 85 sites throughout the region, and we’re constantly working with industry partners and updating what we provide to ensure we stay on the cutting edge,” Moore says.

Business Partners

Kankakee Community College takes a multi-prong approach in fulfilling the region’s workforce development needs. Not only does college offer certificates and degrees in more than 80 subject areas, but it also offers a vast array of training opportunities for employers and incumbent workers that are designed to keep skills current.

“We are continually reaching out to employers asking for input into program development and training needs. In addition, we strive to provide a link between skilled students, alumni and community members with employers who seek a qualified workforce,” says Mary Posing, assistant dean of continuing education and career services for Kankakee Community College.

A new Career Services Center invites area employers to campus to host Employer Spotlights, which are opportunities for employers to recruit students by showcasing their industry and open positions. Employers also can utilize the center and conduct interviewing and testing for potential hires.

The Right Pathways

The state also plays a role in workforce development by helping match businesses with the right training, apprenticeship or recruitment program. Through its Office of Employment and Training, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity works with local school systems, community colleges and industry leaders to develop programs that will help lead students down the best career pathway for them.

“These programs introduce students at the high school level to careers in some of our high-demand areas, such as manufacturing and technology and engineering. Then we add the internship and apprenticeship program, and we’re giving them real-world experience that will better prepare them for a job when they graduate,” says Julio Rodriguez, director of the Illinois Office of Employment & Training.

“The idea of being able to provide real career pathways for employees is valuable — especially in these high-demand industries. They may start in one position, but then there are opportunities for growth, perhaps with that company or maybe with another company in the same industry. I think this is why Illinois is very attractive to people who are looking to relocate here.”

Rodriguez says another reason companies are drawn to Illinois is the state’s Midwestern work ethic.

“One of the key elements of a company’s relocation decision-making process is the work ethic of the workforce, and in Illinois, you’re going to get people who are not only highly skilled, but who also value hard work and take pride in what they do,” he says.

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