Durbin visits MCC to stress need for high-skilled labor

CRYSTAL LAKE – John Padron, who works in Huntley, has been taking a robotics class at McHenry County College and would like to work in research and development, and help with designing and coding robots.

“I like working with my hands, but I’m realizing with robotics, you have to learn how to program. It’s something I’m liking more and more,” Padron told U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who was visiting the school.

Durbin came to MCC on Thursday to discuss the need for more workers for high-need technical jobs. He visited the school’s manufacturing and robotics labs.

“So many places I go to around the state have job openings in manufacturing and can’t fill them,” Durbin said. “The reason they can’t fill them is many of the students didn’t take the basic math and computer courses that you need to get into higher levels.”

He spoke to a crowd that included a handful of students, representatives from local manufacturers, State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, and school administrators, among others.

While in the school’s robotics lab, Durbin asked if there were jobs available for people with those type of skills.

“Everywhere I [go], there is a need for people who can run these things and program and reconfigure,” Instructor Jack Brzezinski said.

Jim Falco, the executive dean of Education, Career and Technical Education at MCC, said manufacturers are integrating more robots into their workplace.

“They need more people who can program, they’re telling us [robots] have been under-utilized because they can’t find enough people,” Falco said.

Falco said companies are facing a dilemma of an aging workforce, no one being in the pipeline, and those who do want to work don’t have the necessary skills.

MCC partners with local businesses to help set up internships for students.

Durbin and U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, have proposed the Community College to Career Fund Act, which calls for $8 billion to create a competitive grant program to fund partnerships between colleges and manufacturers who focus on job training efforts such as apprenticeships, on-the-job training opportunities and paid internships.

“The notion behind it is to reward the same type of thing we heard here today at McHenry County College,” Durbin said. “We’re trying to make sure community colleges are offering opportunities that lead to real jobs, so that it increases the opportunity for jobs and enhances the reputations for community colleges as great destinations for training ... that really results in jobs.”

Durbin said the proposed legislation can help students with financial needs, but hopes that it is opened up to all students.

“The demand is out there, the need is out there, we will not fill it exclusively with those with low-income,” Durbin said.

The bill contains incentive for these type of programs to help students find employment, and sets aside money for programs with high job placement rates.

The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that as many as 600,000 current job openings that stem from a skills gap.

MCC already has a Trade Adjustment Assistance grant that helped the school set up a lab for its manufacturing classes.

“In a year and a half, we’ve been able to set a pipeline from the high school to the college to the manufacturer,” Falco said.

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