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updated: 6/25/2012 6:19 AM

Editorial: A new approach to train for manufacturing jobs

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

Regular readers of our Opinion Page commentaries know that we long have been impressed by Harper College President Kenneth Ender's energizing call for an integrated approach to confront the urgent challenges of a 21st century economy.

In the Northwest suburbs, Ender has seen Harper as an important catalyst in sparking a response to those challenges, but not as an independent problem solver.

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No, Harper in Ender's vision is more of a solutions hub, supporting and being supported by the work of community stakeholders.

An article today by Daily Herald staff writer Kimberly Pohl provides the latest example of this collaborative theme.

Pohl reports that the community college is expected to announce later this week the creation of a new associate degree curriculum for advanced manufacturing professionals.

"Manufacturing?," you might ask. "Isn't manufacturing dead?"

No, it isn't. As a matter of fact, manufacturing is one segment of the economy that is resurgent. But ironically, in an economy with high unemployment, manufacturing companies are struggling to fill jobs. Those are not straightforward line jobs in the 21st century. They're skilled jobs with impressive compensation, but, for the most part, our suburban workforce is untrained for them.

The new curriculum, to be offered beginning this fall, is a collaborative effort to try to address both the training and the stereotypes associated with manufacturing.

Partnering with area high schools and with dozens of suburban manufacturers, the program would include paid internships as key incentives for potential students.

Those internships would be offered in the second semester, not only providing students with immediate on-the-job experience but also enabling them to determine early on whether manufacturing suits them and whether they are suited for it.

The curriculum provides options for a two-year associate degree or as the foundation for a transfer toward a four-year bachelor's degree.

"We have educated and trained around an economy that no longer exists, and we're still figuring out how to catch up to the one that is here and emerging," Ender said. "We think this will make a difference with respect to the kinds of pipelines we can supply to the manufacturers in the district."

If it works, it will be a boon all the way around -- good for prospective students, good for suburban business and good for the suburban job market.

Will it work? Time, of course, will tell.

But if it doesn't, it won't be for lack of a joint and engaged effort.

And that, as much as the program itself, has our endorsement.

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