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U.S. Senator Dick Durbin visited Waubonsee Community College’s downtown Aurora Campus Tuesday to announce a $2.8 million grant that allows the college to serve displaced community residents through new programs for adult education transitions and laboratory technician training.

Waubonsee Receives $2.8 Million Grant to Serve Displaced Workers

woman and man walk along path into a building
Waubonsee Community College President Dr. Christine Sobek walks into the college's downtown Aurora Campus with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin on Tuesday morning. Sen. Durbin announced a $2.8 million grant that will allow Waubonsee to better serve local displaced workers.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin visited Waubonsee Community College’s downtown Aurora Campus Tuesday to announce a $2.8 million grant that allows the college to serve displaced community residents through new programs for adult education transitions and laboratory technician training.

The grant is part of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) initiative, which promotes skills development and employment opportunities in fields such as advanced manufacturing, transportation and health care, as well as science, technology, engineering and math careers through partnerships between training providers and local employers.

“Too often I hear from unemployed workers struggling to make ends meet, yet at the same time I hear from employers who can’t find workers with the right training to fill vacant high-skill jobs,” Sen. Durbin said. “This grant will help workers who have seen their manufacturing or industrial jobs outsourced or off-shored get back on track by teaching them skills that will help them compete for high-wage, high-demand jobs in the 21st century workforce. The end result will be a stronger local economy thanks to the local workers paired with jobs that can’t be shipped overseas. Waubonsee Community College has built a solid reputation over many years of offering job training programs to the Aurora community. This grant gives the college the resources to build on that success.”

Waubonsee’s project, titled “Strengthening Transitions, Building Pathways and Improving Achievement for Disadvantaged Workers,” will enable Waubonsee to successfully transition students taking English as a Second Language (ESL) and GED courses to health care, professional, scientific, and technical service occupational programs. Under the grant, Waubonsee will also develop and offer a new program in laboratory technology that responds to local employers’ needs.

“Waubonsee is dedicated to providing opportunities for community members to enter the workforce and advance their careers, creating a highly qualified workforce in the process,” said Waubonsee President Dr. Christine Sobek. “We’re excited about today’s announcement, as this grant will allow Waubonsee to collaborate with a wide variety of employers and agencies to provide powerful career opportunities for displaced workers throughout our region. Participants in this new program will earn certifications or credentials to enter growing high-wage, high-skill fields that include professional, scientific and technical careers.”

In total, 297 schools nationwide will receive grants as individual applicants or as members of a consortium. The grants include 27 awards to community college and university consortia totaling $359,237,048 and 27 awards to individual institutions totaling $78,262,952.

“These federal grants are part of the Obama administration's ongoing commitment to strengthening American businesses by strengthening the American workforce,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. “This strategic investment will enhance ties among community colleges, universities, employers and other local partners while ensuring that students have access to the skills and resources they need to compete for high-wage, high-skill careers.”

In addition to this TAACCT grant, Waubonsee is participating as a consortium member in another TAACCCT grant program led by Harper College to develop a statewide network of advanced manufacturing programs. The total amount of that grant is $12.9 million.

These grants, which are a part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, fund programs that help workers impacted by outsourced and off-shored jobs. The goal is to help these workers develop the skills to enter new careers with incomes that can support a family in today’s economy. Long a manufacturing hub for railroad and other industries, the City of Aurora and other Fox Valley communities have seen job losses in the manufacturing and industrial sectors. Many of the workers seeking new jobs have lower levels of educational attainment and will directly benefit from Waubonsee’s new programs.

For its project, Waubonsee will develop contextualized GED and ESL coursework for health care and manufacturing and provide advisors to help students transition from ESL and GED courses into the laboratory technician program. At the same time, the college will develop new curriculum and outfit a laboratory and classroom space to prepare students for this high-wage, in-demand field. The entire project is based on stringent accountability measures and is strongly evidence based.

Participants can earn stackable credentials including the GED, National Career Readiness Certificate (NCRC), a laboratory aide certificate, an associate in applied science degree in laboratory technology and go on to pursue bachelor’s degrees in laboratory science fields. Part of the project includes development of certificate and degree programs in laboratory science. Those who complete the program will be qualified to become biological technicians, chemical technicians, food science technicians, environmental science technicians, and water and waste technicians. Earlier this year, the college researched the career landscape locally and found more than 2,800 laboratory science related jobs in the Aurora area alone.

Waubonsee developed the project proposal in conjunction with numerous local employers and agencies to determine workforce gaps and urgently needed skills, knowledge and abilities to fill high-growth, high-wage and high-demand occupations. The college secured commitments from multiple partners to assist in development of the laboratory technology program. These include identification of necessary skills and competencies, curriculum development and program design, work-based learning activities and commitments to hire qualified program graduates. Initial partners include FONA International, Benetech, Fox Metro Water Reclamation District, Hooke College of Applied Sciences, Northern Illinois Water Analysts’ Association, Provena Mercy Medical Center and the Valley Industrial Association.

Public workforce system partners will also engage and collaborate in the development and delivery of the project. This includes commitments from the Kane County Department of Employment and Education (administering the TAA program) and the River Valley Workforce Investment Board, which plans, develops policies and provides oversight of the local workforce system in Kane, DeKalb and Kendall counties.