EDWARDSVILLE — The Building Illinois’ Bioeconomy Consortium, a Department of Labor-funded workforce training and education grant led by Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, will host Building Illinois’ Workforce: New Skills, New Jobs in Bioeconomy and Advanced Manufacturing from 9 a.m. to noon Thursday, March 23, in SIUE’s Morris University Center.
The summit is designed to increase enrollment in new flexible training programs that lead to careers in the bioeconomy and advanced manufacturing industries.
It will bring together educators, economic development leaders, employers and community organizations to discuss the best way to reach Metro East residents in order to drive enrollment in training programs, and ultimately, fill open jobs across the region in advanced manufacturing, bioprocessing and biofuels technology.
“The theme with local and national employers is the same — they can’t find the skilled talent they need,” said John Caupert, executive director of the NCERC at SIUE, which provides workforce training opportunities and internships working directly with large companies. “These jobs provide solid, sustainable living wages. Employers can’t grow without filling the jobs that are open today. Building a skilled workforce is necessary for the growth of our region’s economy.”
The BIB Consortium offers programming at SIUE and partner colleges throughout the state, including Carl Sandburg College, Lewis and Clark Community College, Lincoln Land Community College and Southeastern Illinois College. Programs range from 8-week certificates, through associate’s and baccalaureate degrees.
“We developed these flexible courses, in combination with professional certifications and on-the-job training, to meet the needs of both non-traditional and traditional learners,” said Courtney Breckenridge, program manager at the consortium. “Graduates of our programs in this region have found jobs with Phillips 66, Green Plains Inc., Kraft Foods, MilliporeSigma and Metropolitan Sewer District. The job opportunities are available. Our goal is to train more students to fill them.”
In addition to private-sector jobs, graduates, like Christopher Wense, have also found employment in research. Now an ethanol plant operating technician at the NCERC, Wense developed a passion for bioprocessing after using Trade Adjustment Assistance to help finance training. Wense was laid off from the U.S. Steel plant in Granite City.
“I would and always will promote the Process Operations Technology program and NCERC,” Wense said. “The combination of the two are a match made in heaven. My experience and fortunate success after being laid off validates my recommendation. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity and will do all I can to promote the program, as well as the incredible NCERC experience.”
The consortium was awarded a $10 million Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training grant from the Department of Labor in 2014 to develop flexible programs and develop a larger pool of skilled workers in Illinois and the Metro East, including retraining for veterans and displaced workers. There are online options, many of which incorporate much-needed professional certifications and internships built within the curriculum to place graduates at the top of the job pool.
The summit is the first of two events focusing on economic development in the region this spring, with the other focusing on attracting new companies. From discussions at the summit, BIB hopes to gain new partnerships and spur further interest from employers, educators, community organizations and economic development leaders to spread the word about opportunities through the consortium. The ultimate goal is to build a qualified workforce to fill jobs and make the region’s economy more competitive.
Educators, economic development professionals, members of community organizations or employers in Madison or St. Clair County interested in learning more about the summit should contact Jacqueline Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.