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updated: 10/10/2012 6:45 PM

MCC gets federal grant to expand manufacturing programs

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McHenry County College will use a federal grant to train those who became unemployed after their jobs moved out of the country, as well as veterans and others who are unemployed and underemployed, in high-wage, high-skill manufacturing jobs, officials said.

The three-year, nearly $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Labor's trade adjustment assistance community college and career training program will be used to expand the college's manufacturing training programs, including robotics, welding and computer numerical control, officials said. The grant is part of $12.9 million recently awarded to 21 state community colleges.

The college will offer more classes, buy more equipment and hire more adjunct faculty members, and will work with the McHenry County Workforce Network Board to reach out to the more than 300 people whose jobs have moved out of the country, and will train them and others in jobs needed by local manufacturers, said Jim Falco, MCC's executive dean of education, career and technical education.

"We've tried to work very closely with local manufacturers to see how to address their needs," he said. For example, the college will offer a new industrial maintenance program, which will train people to program computer numerical control and other advanced machines. "If they go down, that shuts down production. (Employers) are having difficulty finding people who can do that," he said.

Manufacturing is the largest employment sector in the county with 13 percent of McHenry County's workforce, followed closely by health care and education, said Jeffery Poynter, director of the McHenry County Workforce Network Board.

Robotics instructor Jack Brzezinski said the field can have a range of applications, from humanoid robots that help the elderly in hospital care, to industrial applications for repetitive or hazardous tasks, to military applications ranging from the development of exoskeletons to unmanned drones, and commercial applications like self-parking and self-driving cars.

MCC right now uses desktop-sized mobile robots for its classes, but will be able to buy large, industrial robotics equipment with the grant money, Brzezinski said.

This semester, MCC's robotics program -- which officials say is the only one of its kind in northern Illinois -- offers one class with 15 students enrolled, with a total of about 30 or 40 students in the program's pipeline, he said. "This is probably one of the best fields to be in," Brzezinski said. "We are excited."

The college also plans to expand its manufacturing dual-credit program into some of the local high schools soon, officials said.

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