How do you move Illinoisans more quickly into good-paying manufacturing jobs that have been left unfilled even in the most recent recession? U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) examined this and related workforce development issues with Parkland College and area industry leaders during a July 1 visit to campus.
“Kraft says ‘we can’t find 100 each year that can fill [these jobs]’,” Durbin told his audience, citing as reasons a lack of required math and reading skills, a preference for suit-and-tie jobs, and failing to pass drug tests.
“It struck me that the only way to get through this was community colleges,” he said.
Dignitaries at Durbin’s visit included Parkland Trustees James Ayers, Lin Warfel, Thomas Bennett; Parkland President Thomas Ramage; and Marc Chagnon, coordinator of Unit 4’s Education to Careers and Professions Program. Several of the college’s vice-presidents, deans, and faculty members also attended, as did area manufacturing representatives.
In a 45-minute fact-finding session in the school’s new Parkhill Applied Technology Center, the senator asked Parkland and Champaign Unit 4 Schools leaders what steps they are making to boost student job-readiness and prepare workers for factory jobs. Answering Durbin’s question, Randy Fletcher, Parkland’s dean of career and transfer programs, said the college incorporates several methods, including retraining of incumbent industry workers so that they can advance into positions; partnering with district schools to inform and recruit students of the benefits of industrial-technical study; and dual credit opportunities, which allow students to earn college credit and high school credit simultaneously, especially in applied technology programs.
Other discussion topics included the Illinois student debt situation, which Durbin called “very scary”; the state senate’s recent unresolved debate on capping student loan interest rates; and for-profit online schools. The latter topic seemed a particular sore spot with the senator, who said for-profits attract 12 percent of Illinois’ high school students, soak up 25 of federal dollars from grants and loans, and yet cause 47 percent of student loan defaults.
“You wind up having nothing to show for it, no return,” Durbin said of the large debts many students face after studying at for-profits. “If you’ve got any doubt about what you’re going to study, go to a community college; it’s a heck of a lot better than the alternative.”
Durbin’s stop included a video on Parkland’s Industrial Technology Program and tour of the Parkhill ATC, which opened for classes last fall. The 56,000 square-foot facility was built to ensure that Parkland’s growing industrial and technical programs continue to meet demands of district employers and remain current with industry advancements.
“Our mission involves responding to the needs in our community for a well-trained workforce,” Ramage said. “For the first time perhaps since the initial construction of this campus in 1973, we have flexibility to develop and grow new degree and certificate opportunities. In total, we will have created an additional 250,000 square feet of classrooms, labs, and offices, allowing Parkland College to expand programs that have been limited for lack of space.”