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Chicago Mayor Emanuel Announces College-to-Career Initiative to Modernize Training Programs, Address Skills Gap

By Kathy Wiggins
January 30, 2012

"We have launched in Chicago a new reform to our community colleges," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel told the mayors at the Friday morning plenary session on January 20. "In Chicago, the mayor has oversight of the community college system. We have seven of them 127,000 students attend our community colleges more than all the student population of all of our four-year institutions put together."

"The community colleges have more students," he continued, "about twice as much as the four-year institutions yet they never get the focus, they never get the attention they deserve. Nationwide, 52 percent of all people going to college go to community colleges.

Now in Chicago we have great four year institutions, and two of the five best business schools; great law schools. Chicago is also the magnet for others graduating from the big ten states who come to Chicago after graduation day. But in the workforce skills set, we do not pay attention to the people who actually do the data entry; do the hospitality work, and that too deserves attention."

"So I announced a series of partnerships between our community colleges and our top employers," continued Emmanuel, "that will draw on their expertise to develop curricula and set industry standards for job training in high-growth sectors like health care, high-tech manufacturing, information technology and professional services."

The program "Colleges to Careers" will partner companies like Allscripts and Northwestern Memorial Hospital with Malcolm X College to design job training in health-care information technology and nursing. It will team AAR Corporation with Chicago's Olive-Harvey College to design a curriculum for avionics and mechanics careers.

These partnerships will align workers' training with the expectations of employers so that community college students will not have to worry about whether they have the right skills for their chosen field. They will have the confidence of knowing that the company they want to work for has helped design their curriculum specifically so that they can be hired and be successful. Employers won't need to search for the skilled workers they need to invest and expand. They will have confidence in their future workforce because they were a partner in shaping it.

"Recently I met a young student at a public-transit stop who was commuting from Harold Washington Community College, where he goes to school, to his night job at a department'store warehouse. Riding from downtown to the Southside, studying along the way, that student, like millions of Americans, is doing his part to ensure he has a shot at a good job. But those of us in government have not been doing our part to meet him halfway. We need to guarantee that the diploma he earns has economic value. I want that student to worry only about doing well in his classes, not about whether the skills he gains in those classes will earn him a job," Emmanuel said.

"I hope that cities across the country will follow Chicago's model," he said in closing. "If we revive and modernize our training programs to match the needs of our high-growth industries, our community college system can catapult millions of Americans into employment and into the middle class, as it has done for generations of Americans."