Daily Herald opinion: As managers clamor for workers, community colleges are stepping in to help
Walk into just about any fast-food restaurant, grocery store or retail outlet in the suburbs these days and you can't miss the plea: Help Wanted!
The shortage of workers in the retail and food sectors is well documented, but for more than a decade, we've been writing about efforts to fill the demand for workers in another area of the economy that surprises many people.
Since the 1970s, Americans have become so familiar with complaints about industrial and technical jobs being shipped overseas that it's easy to miss the fact that there is a profound and growing need for workers to fill these jobs here.
Our community colleges, though, have been paying close attention. And, often working shoulder to shoulder with manufacturers, they've been developing programs aimed at developing interest in these jobs and preparing students to make lasting, well-paying careers out of them.
Consider some of their offerings:
• In 2012, Harper College in Palatine launched an Advanced Manufacturing program designed to train workers in as few as 18 months for jobs in welding, heating and air conditioning, technology and more.
• College of Lake County in Grayslake began the new school year with a new Advanced Technology center housed in a former Lowe's store that aims to train 40% of the county's skilled workforce in the next five years.
• Elgin Community College has announced a $55 million manufacturing center that will provide state-of-the-art classroom space for programs in industrial maintenance, mechanics, energy management, computer controls and more.
• Oakton Community College in Des Plaines partnered with the Technology and Manufacturing Association to upgrade its Advanced Automation certification program so that students registered with TMA who complete Oakton's program will get dual certificates and specific job placement assistance.
• The Manufacturing Technology program at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn provides hands-on cutting-edge training in a wide variety of skill areas.
In a story by our Alicia Fabbre this week, Cathy Taylor, dean of ECC's sustainability, business and career technologies division, says that what is happening in manufacturing today "looks very much like the industrial revolution."
That's a remarkable comparison, but an apt one, considering that various college administrators report companies are locking in and snatching up manufacturing students even before they graduate.
There are, of course, many advantages and benefits to higher education at traditional four-year colleges and universities, but it's just as true that, for many students, programs like the manufacturing disciplines at suburban community colleges can be just as rewarding, if not more so, at less cost.
All while helping to advance and sustain a revolution that is providing a well-paying career alternative for individuals looking to answer those "Help Wanted" pleas in something other than food service or retail.