McHenry County College will receive nearly $600,000 over three years from a U.S. Department of Labor grant to expand its manufacturing and robotics training programs that will ultimately meet industry needs for highly skilled workers. MCC is the only community college in northern Illinois to offer a robotics program; this fall, the College launched its first-ever Associate in Applied Science degree program in robotics.
MCC's grant award is part of $12.9 million in funding awarded to 21 Illinois community colleges by the U.S. Department of Labor through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) Community College and Career Training program.
MCC president Vicky Smith said that the grant award is one of MCC’s largest and will provide significant assistance in furthering the College’s emphasis on enhancing workforce education and training needs for the manufacturing industry. "On behalf of McHenry County College, we are very pleased to be part of this effort and to be awarded this grant, and I look forward to the College furthering its efforts in robotics for manufacturing, engineering technology, and industrial maintenance," Smith said.
According to the McHenry County Labor Report of 2011, manufacturing is the largest employment sector of industry in McHenry County. This represents 13 percent of the workforce working directly in manufacturing and up to 15.75 percent working in manufacturing and related jobs such as transportation and warehousing.
Throughout the county and nation, manufacturing is shifting and requires new skill sets, including more advanced critical thinking, math and computer skills. In addition, a large segment of employees are nearing retirement age, causing manufacturing employers to require an even larger pipeline of potential talent to fill vacant positions.
Prior to receiving the grant, MCC had extensive relationships with area manufacturers, according to Tony Miksa, vice president of Academic and Student Affairs. "With this industry being so large in the county, the College has been focused for some time on trying to revive manufacturing."
"I am very excited," said Miksa. "The effort we have put into researching the manufacturing needs in the county and collaborating with other community colleges has paid off. What is most exciting is that we are able to accentuate our strengths and partner with other community colleges to make sure the education we provide is in line with the skills that workers need."
MCC has partnered with Harper College and 19 other Illinois community colleges to form a consortium called the Illinois Network for Advanced Manufacturing (INAM). The funds will help the consortium’s ability to deliver education and career training programs leading to industry-related certificates or associate’s degrees.
According to Jim Falco, executive dean of Education, Career and Technical Education, funds will be used to prepare TAA-eligible and other workers for high-wage, high-skill advanced manufacturing occupations. "This is very exciting. We will retrain people who are underemployed so they can qualify for more sustainable work, as well as train those who are unemployed so they can update their skills in areas such as mathematics and technology or robotic skills."
MCC currently offers robotic classes using desktop-sized robots, and by next spring, the College will purchase larger equipment and offer classes during the day by expanding at the Woodstock Center at 912 Trakk Lane. The College currently rents the Center for welding classes and will be able to offer daytime classes in Computer Numerical Control (CNC) and robotics by expanding equipment into that location.
"Students will be able to continue their training from a desktop robot to an industrial robot," Falco said. "Future coursework will include working with programmable logic controls and industrial maintenance programs."
The College also will expand its manufacturing Dual Credit high school program into some of the local high schools soon.
"Having this grant allows us to expand our manufacturing program and to build greater capacity in our robotics program," said Falco. "This will also benefit the local manufacturers because it will help us to help them fill critical shortages in the pipeline for qualified workers. We have heard the manufacturers' concerns. They simply do not have enough people to fill the jobs they need," he said, noting that some companies even have robots sitting idle in their facilities because no one is trained to use them. "It is McHenry County College's responsibility to help these companies and their workforces remain successful."