Bringing like organizations together to solve problems sometimes results in truly innovative solutions. The Economic Development Council for Central Illinois (EDC) utilizes its Strategy Group format to do just that. In 2007, the EDC’s Specialized Manufacturing Strategy Group was formed to identify the growth opportunities in small- to medium-sized manufacturing businesses in central Illinois. As discussions ensued, it was clear that one obstacle to manufacturing growth was an ample supply of qualified and trained workers. The Strategy Group identified the skills gaps of the available and incoming workforce, along with the need for early training and other educational opportunities.
Meanwhile, City of Pekin officials, particularly the late Mayor Dave Tebben, and Paula Davis, superintendent at Pekin High School, were working with vocational teachers and others to provide graduating senior high school students with additional avenues for well-paying jobs and a successful future. Many students graduating high school wanted to move directly into the workforce, and while Pekin High has an excellent vocational program, students needed additional specialized skills for local manufacturing positions.
All the stars were beginning to align. Illinois Central College (ICC) has long been a supporter of the City of Pekin and was renting space at Pekin High School to offer general education classes at night. But it took the energy and enthusiasm of Paula Davis to bring to light the students’ need, the strength and history of the Pekin vocational training programs, and that ICC has more students from the Pekin zip code than any other! Michael Sloan, ICC associate dean of Agriculture and Industrial Technologies, had worked with many of these students. He is also a volunteer with the Specialized Manufacturing Strategy Group.
In May 2008, ICC President Dr. John Erwin met with City of Pekin officials to begin a new chapter in education. According to Pekin City Manager Denny Kief, “Dr. Erwin was phenomenal to work with. He asked to see potential locations immediately.” Within two weeks, tours of sites for a new campus were arranged. Since 1999, the City of Pekin had been marketing a property on four acres at the Riverway Business Park with a 19,000-square-foot machine-shop type building. The site was chosen, and an agreement to lease the space was reached within six weeks. In January of this year, classes in welding, heating, ventilating, air conditioning and refrigeration started at the newly accredited ICC South Campus.
EDC COO Vickie Clark said, “The ICC South location is a masterful advantage for economic development in southern Tazewell County. Businesses looking to locate in the region, and specifically in the Riverway Business Park, can find training for their current and future employees right next door. In addition, students attending classes at ICC South are surrounded by the business and industrial opportunities of their future.”
Now educators, communities and manufacturers are beginning to work in our region to address the current needs of the workplace. Steve Stewart, director of Human Resources for Excel Foundry and Machine, stated, “We now have the opportunity to look at our training needs differently and customize an educational program to suit our needs and the needs of other local manufacturers. During this economic downturn, training our employees can be an important part of our long-term strategy.” This is so much more than the old co-op jobs of the past. Bridging the gap between workforce needs and students’ education was an innovative solution, providing an alternate path for success. iBi