It seems illogical that, according to Harper College officials, the region's unemployment rate is holding steady at 9 percent and yet more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs in the Chicago are going unfilled.
The disconnect is attributed to a lack of workers who boast desired "middle skills," or that level of training and certification between a high school and bachelor's degree.
Two of the most respected minds in the corporate and higher education realms Thursday addressed Harper's board of trustees and educational foundation on how to go about improving the skills of America's workers.
Motorola Solutions CEO Greg Brown, whose company's world headquarters sit about a mile east of the Palatine campus, joined Walter Bumphus, president and CEO of the American Association of Community Colleges, for a panel discussion and what amounted to a brainstorming session.
"I'm a believer that the way we solve problems is local and neighbor up, not federal and macro down," Brown said. "At the end of the day, we need to lock arms locally."
The most effective way to do that, the pair agreed, is to create partnerships between employers and community colleges.
One recent example of that, Harper College President Ken Ender said, is a new initiative by the Northern Illinois Workforce Coalition.
Led by Harper, about 15 community colleges are signing up 50 manufacturers to provide a paid internship for students who complete a 15-hour certificate program. That, in turn, will lead to full-time employment if the intern performs well.
Brown said another example of a partnership is Motorola's commitment to Harper's Choice Scholars Summer Institute program, which enrolls select incoming freshmen just below the cusp of college readiness into a four-week development program.
Motorola professionals last summer started coming in to share their experiences to help students connect assignments with real-world tasks.
Brown and Bumphus also emphasized that many students today lack "a baseline of employability skills" such as punctuality and basic communication. They'd like to see those core skills credentialed in some fashion.
"You can't text your way through an interview," Brown said.
Though they say social media is partly to blame for a decline in that social component, they agree that kind of technology needs to be better utilized to better connect job applicants with potential employment.
Some board and foundation members chimed in with ideas on how to develop more employable community college graduates such as creating more internship opportunities, mentor programs and attempting to forge relationships with the roughly 7,000 manufacturers in the Harper district.
Everyone acknowledged that since the U.S. currently has a shortfall of 3 million skilled workers, the true challenge will be large-scale implementation. But Bumphus and Brown reiterated that community colleges will be key to producing a reliable pipeline of skilled employees so that businesses can compete in a global economy.