Annual Grundy growth conference focuses on future jobs

October 18, 2014

by Jessica Bourque, Morris Daily Herald

Dr. Jim Applegate, Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, presents his remarks
Dr. Jim Applegate, Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, presents his remarks

Grundy County’s manufacturing, agriculture, logistics and health care industries are projected to expand in coming years, remaining the prominent areas of employment for local workers.

Growing a workforce that is qualified to fill those future positions is important to community leaders, which is why several of them attended Friday afternoon’s ninth annual Grundy County Growth Conference themed “Using a Collective Impact to Grow a Local Workforce.”

Speakers at the conference focused on the role of education in equipping residents with the skills needed to navigate Grundy County’s growing job landscape.

“We’ve known that we have a retiring workforce, and we know that jobs are changing,” said Julie Buck, executive director of the Grundy County Community Foundation, which hosts the annual conference. “We want to make sure our workforce is trained on the jobs available here in Grundy County.”

According to the executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, Jim Applegate, Illinois needs to remodel its education system so that students from all population groups and socioeconomic backgrounds have a chance at graduating college.

Ensuring all students have a chance to receive the training they need is crucial to building a workforce compatible with Grundy County’s job market.

Applegate encouraged schools to offer more coordinated and specialized training opportunities to its students so they are better equipped to have, and complete, a post-secondary education.

The Grundy Area Vocational Center has put Grundy County “on the map” as being one of the only programs in Illinois to offer high school students their American Welding Society certificates, said Cindy Tomei, president of the Valley Industrial Association.

Tomei said manufacturing and logistics companies are looking for workers with training and education that goes beyond high school.

“I think that’s been a misnomer that you don’t need a lot of education to work a manufacturing job,” Tomei said. “It takes much more than a high school diploma.”

Health care was a major topic of discussion as the number of Grundy County’s health care jobs are expected to grow by 30 percent in coming years, said speaker Bruce Neimeyer, associate vice chancellor for the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Health care is huge here in Grundy County,” Neimeyer said.

He said many students tend to think of health care jobs in the traditional sense – doctors, nurses, pharmacists – but in reality, there are many more specialized jobs in the health care field.

Expanding students’ knowledge about what health care jobs are available should begin at an early age, Neimeyer said.

All of the speakers pointed to specific resources and learning exchanges that Grundy County leaders could use in implementing new workforce training strategies.

“It’s about making those outside resources available here in Grundy County,” Buck said.