Two low-boy semi-trailers filled with the latest computer and welding equipment are serving as a campus on the move at Prairie State College.
PSC recognized it is difficult to train employees in new skills on a regular college schedule. The mobile units will bring the training directly to the employer.
Dubbed the PSC Mobile Training Center, one trailer has eight welding stations and two simulators. The other is outfitted with tools for manufacturing processes, including CNC (computer numeric control) and manual lathes and mills used to design parts that can be made from a CAD (computer assisted design) drawing.
The mobile training units are the latest way Prairie State College is partnering with businesses in the South Suburbs to help employees keep current with their work skills.
A $938,447 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA), secured by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill., helped fund half the cost of purchasing and outfitting the trailers.
The mobile units offer training at a work site, rather than having employees come to the Chicago Heights campus.
Craig D. Schmidt, PSC vice president of community and economic development, said the college has been working on the project for more than two years. The trailers were one of several ideas offered to EDA. The mobile units were accepted because EDA assessed that the training would help keep employees in the South Suburbs.
“Our goal was to meet the workforce needs,” said PSC President Terri Winfree. “I’ve heard terms like: ‘This is a game changer.’ And, ‘This is exactly what we need.’”
Employers see their highly qualified staffs nearing retirement age and want to make certain they have a strong workforce to fill those upcoming openings.
“This can be parked (on site) and everyone gets consistency during their work hours there, as opposed to getting off work and attempting to come to campus,” Winfree said. PSC faculty, instructors or adjuncts will be giving the training.
Schmidt said the training programs will be flexible. Employees can earn college credit, or they can have two- or four-hour workshops. The minimum amount of training will be three days at one site. If it’s a college credit course, that could mean being on site two days a week for a specific amount of weeks.
One company has a training program that’s 4½ days “and they want us to mirror that and bring in (their) people from other locations,” Schmidt explained.
The PSC Mobile Training Center is unique to this area, although it is being used in Colorado and other locations.
Winfree said the immediate focus is the District 515 area. Then PSC will look to partner with other community colleges, such as South Suburban College, Moraine Valley Community College and Kankakee Community College, as well as local communities where residents could use the mobile units to learn work skills.
Schmidt said PSC now is doing its own in-house training to understand how to move the trailers from one location to the next, how to set them up and make them secure and how to replenish the materials that were used.
He expects the two mobile training centers will be fully operational by the middle of January.
One of the first sites to sign on was Ford’s Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights.
“We are excited about the enhanced instruction opportunities our apprentices will receive with the Prairie State College Mobile Training Units,” said Frank Hurysz, joint apprenticeship coordinator at the Ford Stamping Plant.
Schmidt said, “We’re having conversations with local employers now,” about how to get on a list to use the trailers.