Will County economic development on the rise

Megann Horstead | 10/3/2018, 4 p.m.
A new report released by the Workforce Investment Board of Will County shows that economic development in Will County has ...

“We’ve survived and thrived over 117 years, not because of our historical foundation as the nation’s first public community college, but because those before us understood that to thrive in fluctuating and challenging environments, we needed to understand our world, and understand the changing educational needs of that world,” Mitchell said. “Our actions each day require thoughtful and inclusive decision-making in a variety of challenging situations. It’s important to remain mission centric, always looking to community needs and prioritizing student success as the ultimate end goal.”

College data indicates that graduates can expect a total lifetime earnings gain of about $535,000. That makes for an additional $12,000 per year from age 20 to 65 and a 41 percent increase over the average total lifetime earnings of those who have not completed a community college program.

Amy Murphy, dean of applied arts, workforce education and training for Joliet Junior College, said she feels the industry has been very receptive to the college’s efforts to help foster a skilled, knowledgeable workforce.

“I think that’s reflective of the scholarships that the industry is funding for students,” she said. “I think they’re appreciative of how fast we can respond getting programming up.”

Dr. Randall Fletcher, vice president of academic affairs for Joliet Junior College, said that equally as important, the college prides itself on being proactive rather than reactive to the industry.

Murphy said that as industry changes and modifies, the college goes back to add and enhance its curriculum to make sure the skillsets that students are getting reflect what the industry tells the college.

Joliet Junior College is preparing to launch a medical assistant program in the fall of 2019.

Murphy said that program is being introduced to meet a growing need.

At Joliet Junior College, technical and liberal arts programs currently range from manufacturing and welding to automotive and nursing.

“I think what JJC has to offer is very encompassing of all the different skillsets needed,” Murphy said.

In addition, Joliet Junior College partners with Joliet Township High School District 204 to support high school students in pursuing dual-credit opportunities.

Karla Guseman, assistant superintendent for Joliet Township High School District 204, said they pride themselves on working with a number of entities to help in developing a skilled, knowledgeable workforce for Will County.

“We’re partnering with a lot of different groups to make we stay up on the pulse of what’s going on, so that when an opportunity presents itself for our students, we’re ready and able to get that information to our students,” she said.

Guseman said the District relies, in part, on the quarterly economic development report to support students and their needs.

“Those reports, I think, are really helpful to make sure our career academies and our pathways are still appropriate for students, but the other thing we look at is our own students’ interests,” she said.

For example, if students demonstrate a lack of growth in certain areas, it doesn’t mean that the District immediately stops supporting students in that field of study, Guseman said. It’s something that is monitored, and the quarterly economic development report can be helpful.