Area Community Colleges Partner to Strengthen Manufacturing

Feb 05, 2021

Last October, Governor JB Pritzker announced his intention to construct two community college-based manufacturing training academies in southern Illinois.  “We’re investing directly in communities and in companies with programs that will allow businesses to grow, retain and attract new talent for higher-paying jobs of the future,” Pritzker said. “Through this program, we will bring investments where they are most needed, specifically for downstate communities, where these cutting-edge training opportunities have not been as widely available.”  The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity says that 15 million dollars will be available to fund two centers.
The decision to house these new manufacturing training academies at community colleges makes sense.  “As Illinois’ largest workforce training provider, community colleges statewide have the expertise to partner with local communities to help guide our residents on the path to meaningful careers through these new facilities,” said Brian Durham, Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board. 
At least two area community college districts are working collaboratively to bring the manufacturing academy to our part of the state.  Last week, Illinois Eastern Community Colleges (District 529) and Lake Land College (District 517) submitted a joint proposal to the DCEO which they believe will close the regional skills gap by providing employers with access to a highly trained workforce.  The partnership is something that the leadership of both districts says makes sense.  “Manufacturing is one of the most important employment sectors in this part of the state,” said Dr. Ryan Gower, Chancellor of Illinois Eastern Community Colleges.  “Addressing outmigration of talent, closing the skills gaps, and developing strategies to recruit both industry and laborers to this part of the state will require a regional strategy and then strong local buy-in.  President [Josh] Bullock and I believe our institutions can play key leadership roles in this initiative.”           
Gower says that manufacturing jobs are quite strong across both community college districts, but despite high wages, employers continue to struggle to find skilled labor to fill open positions.  “We believe the first step has to be creating a better understanding of manufacturing jobs and the opportunities available for local residents.”  If funded, IECC and Lake Land will develop a joint dual credit curriculum in manufacturing designed to interest area high-school students in manufacturing jobs.  These dual credit courses could then be transferred to manufacturing programs at Lake Land College, Lincoln Trail College, Olney Central College, or Wabash Valley College.  Gower indicates that efforts will not be limited to high school students.  “We are re-aligning our programs and our facilities to serve traditional and non-traditional students as well as incumbent workers.” 
Through the Re-Build Illinois Bill enacted last year, Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill. recently received an 8.37-million-dollar award for a Technology Center and had already planned to house several manufacturing programs there. 
The grant also calls for Lake Land College to construct a 20,000 square foot Manufacturing Technology Center in Effingham, Illinois.  This 5.6-million-dollar project will feature open lab space and cutting-edge technology dedicated to manufacturing.  Lake Land College will offer CNC Machining, Industrial Maintenance, Welding and Manufacturing skills.  “The timing is very good,” said Dr. Josh Bullock, President of Lake Land College.  “Both districts have a strong employment base, particularly along our shared border.  With IECC’s new center in Robinson, our planned center in Effingham, and the willingness of both institutions to collaborate, this grant would have a tremendous impact on manufacturing in our region.”  
The grant calls for 5.6 million dollars to be used for the construction of Lake Land’s Manufacturing Technology Center and about 1.5 million dollars for IECC to use for teaching technology and equipment.  Only nine community colleges (Illinois Eastern, John A. Logan, Kaskaskia, Lake Land, Lewis and Clark, Rend Lake, Shawnee, Southeastern, and Southwestern) in the Southern Region were eligible to apply for the funding.