Prairie State College (PSC) is taking a new approach at training skilled and unskilled workers for jobs in welding and manufacturing, thanks to a federal grant.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $938,447 grant this month that will cover half the cost of two semi-trailers to be outfitted with technical equipment and moved to locations within District 515, said Craig Schmidt, vice president of community and economic development at PSC.
South suburban employers have a workforce from throughout the Chicago area and Indiana, and “coming to PSC (in Chicago Heights) for training isn’t always convenient for them, so our intention is to go to the company to do training before or after shifts versus having to come out here,” Schmidt explained.
He believes PSC is the first college in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area to do mobile training units.
Schmidt said the college learned of the EDA grant and started the process in June with help from Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., and her congressional staff.
“Our office played a significant role in introducing PSC officials and EDA officials at the EDA’s Midwest Regional Office in Chicago,” the congresswoman said.
Through brainstorming sessions, PSC, EDA and Kelly’s staff considered how federal grants could benefit PSC residents and businesses with job training, workforce development and transportation. The congresswoman said that collaboration led to this federal grant.
“The grant also addresses the skills gap that’s leaving 15,000 Chicago-area manufacturing jobs unfilled,” Kelly said. “Providing grants and other types of financial aid for career and technical education programs are the tools that will keep our region competitive in the 21st century job market.”
Schmidt said several businesses and manufacturers backed the effort as part of the grant application process, and they will be among the first to use the 53-foot-long semi-trailers that will be outfitted with welding equipment and Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine equipment used in the manufacturing process to fabricate from wood, composites, aluminum and steel.
PSC faculty and adjunct faculty will teach the courses.
PSC enrollment in skills training had been decreasing “but because of the resurgence in manufacturing, enrollment has been increasing now,” he said. “There’s a lot of assistance coming out now geared toward manufacturing and that’s why we’re putting so much emphasis in it as well.
“All of our local employers are telling us they have an aging workforce. There is not a pipeline of skilled individuals to fill positions, so our intent is not only to go to the businesses and upgrade the skills so they can grow in the company but also to go to blighted areas, those with scarce resources, and bring training to individuals there so that we can get skills to help them get a job.
“We’re focusing both on the business and community aspect,” Schmidt added. “We hope to work with local school districts as well.”