Why College of DuPage focuses on workplace needs
Most people agree that a well-educated workforce can lead to economic prosperity. But it is important that education gained by students is what the workplace requires.
During the past several years, a number of studies -- including those by Harvard University and Georgetown University -- place job openings requiring a four-year degree or higher at 30 percent to 35 percent.
This means a large number of job openings will require another form of postsecondary credential, such as an associate degree or skill-based certificate.
Even in a robust employment market, as reflected by last year's historic low unemployment rates, College of DuPage will stay focused on workforce needs.
The questions presently debated in public forums are important: Do employees have the necessary skills for the available jobs? Are employers hiring applicants without the proper credentials simply because they have positions to fill? What is the long-term impact when individuals have not received the education and training that are fundamentally needed in the marketplace?
Educators and lawmakers are participating in the discussion. Notably, federal legislators are turning to community colleges to serve as leaders in workforce development.
I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., with COD board Chairman Frank Napolitano and longtime Director of Legislative Relations and Special Assistant to the President Mary Ann Millush.
In our meetings, several legislators expressed the importance of developing workers with the skills immediately needed in the marketplace and individuals with greater capacity in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
College of DuPage is moving deliberately to address these needs. Arguably, we are uniquely positioned to expeditiously adapt to the environment in which we deliver educational services.
For example, Project Hire-Ed, which was featured in this column last year, is COD's latest initiative. The apprenticeship program uses an earn-and-learn model focusing on classroom curriculum, on-the-job skills building and employment.
By conferring with business leaders about what they believe is absent in the skills set of certain recent graduates and what is simply missing from the workforce, the college can formulate solutions for specific challenges facing area employers.
Project Hire-Ed is currently developing its first pilot model with the Village of Addison.
COD also employs a workforce development specialist who is physically present at DuPage County's local one-stop center, the workNet DuPage Career Center.
The Center offers a variety of services designed to equip its clients for the workforce. These services include the provision of career counseling and assessment; exploration of the college's degree and certificate programs; career planning; assistance in getting started at COD; information on programs that offer financial support for training; referrals to other college services; and information on career development support available through community agencies.
This local one-stop houses on-site representatives from multiple agencies to assist jobseekers who are either unemployed or underemployed.
Additionally, the college's Business Solutions program provides customized training and professional development on the premises of a business or on our campus. In 2018, Business Solutions served more than 1,800 people in multiple industries through training seminars, career development programs and professional continuing education courses.
Education areas have included, but not been limited to, business analysis, commercial driver's license, project management and health care.
These are just a few examples of the targeted programming that College of DuPage can deliver. The college offers a variety of certificate programs that provide both a way to enter the workforce and a stackable credential that, with further coursework, can lead to additional credentials and a degree.
COD is also focused on STEM education. The marketplace demand for skills in STEM fields is generally strong, and we are aggressively developing our capacity to meet this need such as the college's Engineering Pathways program.
This exceptional program provides a seamless pathway to guaranteed admission to the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for COD transfer students meeting applicable academic requirements.
At the same time, we will continue to provide a well-rounded education to our students.
The college seeks to send its graduates into the marketplace with the capacity to communicate effectively, critically analyze the situations they confront, understand historical contexts and appreciate human differences -- regardless of their specific fields of study.
In order to satisfy employer needs, College of DuPage continuously reassesses the correlation between those needs and the educational services we deliver. Many of our programs have advisory boards consisting of career professionals who provide information on needed skills, new trends and changes that affect training.
Our faculty recognizes the importance of setting learning objectives that are relevant to today's student.
At College of DuPage, we are committed to offering a high-quality education centered on student success and remain focused on developing a skilled workforce. This approach will ensure that marketplace needs are met to promote a stronger economy and a better society.
• Brian Caputo is the interim president at College of DuPage. His column appears monthly in Neighbor.