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Education and Industry Team Up for the Local Workforce

As America continues to emerge from the Great Recession, workplaces have begun to hire again, offering interesting positions that afford employees the chance to not only earn a living, but also love what they do.

However, employers continue to tell those of us in education about a persistent challenge they have: matching positions requiring specialized skills with the workers who hold those skills.

In its report published earlier this year, titled “The Shocking Truth About the Skills Gap,” CareerBuilder noted that 8 in 10 employers said they experienced at least some difficulty in finding the skilled workers they need to fill job vacancies at their companies.

And more than a third of those employers attributed the skills gap to “education gaps in particular areas.”

Waubonsee Community College and others among America’s network of two-year colleges have taken steps to meet the challenges identified by employers in our regions and our country.

But instead of simply implementing solutions we think might work, we have sought guidance from those who hold many of the answers — the employers, makers and doers working, living and producing every day in the communities we serve.

For years, several of our career and technical education (CTE) programs have been improved through the expertise of local business owners, executives and managers who serve on discipline-specific advisory committees.

Over the past few years, representatives of 15 local businesses and industry organizations - engaged in such diverse endeavors as ensuring water quality, creating new and more delicious food flavorings, and inventing devices to reduce the amount of dust created by industry - leant their insight to help Waubonsee create and launch its new Laboratory Technology program.

This valuable input helped to shape the program’s scope, its curriculum and even the classrooms themselves; the advisory committee members helped the college select the right equipment and orient the laboratory in a way that best simulates an actual work environment and related competencies.

Similar advisory committees have been established for other programs at Waubonsee, including Automotive Technology/Auto Body, Graphic Design, Criminal Justice, Nursing, Computer Aided Design and Drafting, and Machine Tool Technology, among others. Most committees are run in partnership with the Valley Education for Employment System (VALEES), an organization that works not only with area industry, but also local high schools and vocational centers.

The advisory committee model is just one example of education and industry working together to ensure that today’s high school and college students are ready to be tomorrow’s professionals. Creating and nurturing such partnerships will continue to rank as a priority for those of us engaged in the business of educating America’s workforce.