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Monthly Archives: January 2018

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Linking Talent with Opportunity

The Transform Rockford movement is about connecting people with opportunities. And we believe great opportunities exist here in the region – opportunities for residents, visitors, and investors.

The Linking Talent with Opportunity project is all about connecting residents to career pathways that lead to successful and fulfilling careers. These pathways begin in middle school when students have a chance to become familiar with careers and think about their own talents and interests. The pathways accelerate in high school when students receive education and skills that prepare them for specific higher education tracks and/or employment opportunities.

Much of the work of the Linking Talent with Opportunity project is to align those higher education tracks (which can lead to degrees, certifications or other credentials) with the high school work into a regional set of pathways for the careers needed in our 21st-century economy. The goal is to create a seamless pathway experience for the student that leads to a fulfilling career opportunity.

This will be a good test of our region’s capacity for collaboration. The work has begun with a partnership among local community colleges and high schools. Launch partners include Rock Valley College, Highland Community College, Rockford Public Schools, Harlem School District, Belvidere School District and Hononegah Community School District.

Building and filling these career pathways with the region’s talented residents will provide an important economic development tool. “There is not a more significant opportunity and no higher priority in my view than workforce development,” said Nathan Bryant, president/CEO of the Rockford Area Economic Development Council.”

Funding for much of the work is coming from the Community Foundation of Northern Illinois, which made a three-year commitment for a total of $675,000 to make the goal a reality – its largest single commitment ever.

“(W)e see a rare and refreshing consensus among partners who have both the capacity and willingness to make change happen. Real and relevant design work has already been done, and the education partners have a plan to engage more school districts, continue design work and align with economic and workforce development partners for critical input.”

Connecting Talent with Opportunity is a significant part of the larger effort of building a top-notch workforce that attracts and grows investment, residents, and employers. Watch for other related efforts in coming months. As Doug Jensen, President of Rock Valley College and a Transform Rockford Steering Committee member, recently said, “I believe we will become a national center of workforce development excellence.”

Thank you to all of the partners joining the effort to make Linking Talent with Opportunity a success.

To learn more about the needs of the 21st-century economy, please view “Success in the New Economy” on YouTube

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Engineering Our Future

The Rockford region has long been an advanced manufacturing hub. Our region’s roots in the machine tool industry have supported our community’s evolution into a 21st-century powerhouse. In recent years, we have grown to become America’s ninth largest Aerospace hub and are now known as a place where sophisticated design, machining, and supply-chain solutions are developed for a myriad of industries.

Those Rockford area solutions are often developed by engineers. Until now, all degreed engineers had to receive their education from outside the Rockford region. And that’s where the Engineering Our Future project came in – a project that has had aggressive targets and schedules and is already delivering results.

“We reached out to Northern Illinois University and found an eager partner,” said Rock Valley College board member and R1 Planning Council Executive Director Michael Dunn, Jr. Discussions moved quickly, and the project launched in August of 2015 with the announcement of the NIU Engineering program at the RVC campus. A capital campaign launched at the same time to support the refurbishment of the Woodward Technology Center, scholarships, and programming. All told, the campaign has raised $7.5 million to date from a wide variety of community funders across the region.

The facility work moved quickly, allowing the first NIU classes to begin in August of 2016 in a fresh, well-equipped setting. NIU and RVC teams worked closely to integrate their curriculums and eliminate barriers to a smooth student transfer process. Partnerships with local businesses were built,
allowing students to have a robust set of internship and placement opportunities.

Word of the opportunity to locally obtain a high-quality 4-year engineering degree with industry integration for less than $40,000 spread quickly. RVC enrollment in engineering classes more than tripled. Staff and community members worked closely to keep the wave of new students supported and connected with local internship and employment opportunities.

The project continues to drive forward – heightening regional awareness of the program, improving connections with area high schools,
connecting students with opportunities for financial and mentoring support, and building a network of employment and technical partners.

The project holds great economic promise for the region. “Engineers are great economic drivers,” said Bob Guirl, an active community member in the Transform Rockford movement and Engineering Our Future team member. “For every 100 engineers we train and place here, we create 300 to 600 other jobs.”

The Engineering Our Future team meets for 30 minutes at 7:30 AM on Mondays. “We are learning every week,” says Sagar Patel, Engineering Our Future team member and President, Woodward Aircraft Turbine Systems. The team’s commitment is paying off. In a few months, the first of the local NIU program’s engineers will graduate – each with great local employment opportunities.

Reflecting on the spreading collaborations and breadth of career pathways being created in the region, Dunn added, “We absolutely can be a place that attracts people and companies who are looking for a great education and career-specific training. Why not? That would be my question; why not? We’re already halfway there.”

“Workforce development is a potentially game-changing opportunity, and the best part is we can write our textbook,” adds Patel.