MALTA – Kishwaukee College and area manufacturers got a $609,000 boost to provide hands-on training for a growing number of jobs that require advanced technical skills.
Kishwaukee College in Malta partnered with 20 other Illinois community colleges, including Harper College in Palatine, which led the charge in expanding its Advanced Manufacturing Training Program throughout the state.
Karen Schmitt, executive director of the Center for Business Development and Continuing Education, said grant funds will fuel the Automated Engineering Technology program over four years. She hopes the program will help close what she called the “skill gap.”
“There’s just a real mismatch of job opportunities that require skills in manufacturing and the pool of labor trying to find employment in the industry,” she said.
The Manufacturing Institute reported recently an estimated 600,000 manufacturing jobs are open across the United States, but there’s a shortage of skilled workers to fill them.
Schmitt likened it to a work/study program, where local manufacturers mentor students who are interested in the field.
The program allows students to work in the manufacturing field part time and earn college credit toward a two-year degree or certificate.
She said the program can appeal to a variety of job seekers, including high school students, veterans and those searching for a new career path.
The money comes from nearly $13 million in federal funding through the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training Program.
It helps community colleges implement a program already in place at Harper College that fosters partnerships between colleges and manufacturers.
“I think we’re really looking to further link employers with employees who are well trained,” said Sara Pohl, dean of the Career Technologies Department at Kishwaukee College. “I think it’s really going to help us expand our reach.”
Schmitt said each of the community colleges worked together, formed task forces and connected with their local manufacturing bases to get the program off the ground. She found out earlier this week they had secured the grant.
“We’re all really, really pleased,” she said. “It will do a lot for manufacturers and the community, too.”
Paul Borek, executive director of the DeKalb County Economic Development Corp., said manufacturing jobs already are available in the county, and opportunities likely will become available as the sector’s pool of skilled labor ages and retires.
“Manufacturing and industrial development has been leading the recovering in DeKalb County,” he said, citing the six new industrial facilities that have been constructed in the last two years.
The sector employs 7,500 DeKalb County residents, and Borek said its average salary of $38,000 is among the highest in the county.
Schmitt stressed manufacturing is much different today than it was 20 years ago.
“There are fabulous opportunities,” she said. “It’s good money and a thriving environment.”
For more information about the Advanced Manufacturing Training Program, contact the Career Technologies Department at Kishwaukee College at 815-825-2086, ext. 2830.