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Apprenticeship program at JJC aims to pair companies, students to build skilled workforce

As the nation’s workforce ages and begins to retire, there’s a push, locally and nationally, to get younger people prepared to fill a variety of jobs that require certain skill sets.

A good way to help younger members of the workforce bridge that skills gap is through hands-on experience, and that’s the idea behind an apprenticeship program at Joliet Junior College, said Melissa Lachcik, continuing education development coordinator for the college.

The college kicked off its program last week at an event that coincided with the federal-level observance of National Apprenticeship Week that touted community partnerships that are creating pathways to apprenticeships.

“Every company knows there’s a cost in hiring people,” said Amy Murphy, the college’s dean of Workforce Education. “An apprenticeship program should alleviate some of that cost because you’re making an investment in an employee, you’re pairing them with an employee internally, and you’re giving them related instruction that helps them with the occupation that they’re in.”

Joliet Junior College received a grant in August to assist with the education component of running an apprenticeship program that will match 150 individuals with companies.

“To participate in our apprenticeship program, the company has to make a commitment to the apprenticeship program, whether it’s one year or up to five years,” Murphy said. “We sit down together, go through what their needs are and develop a program.”

Murphy said participants in the program can start as JJC students or as someone a partner company hires and then enrolls in the college.

“As far as the related instruction, JJC provides that for these companies,” she said.

TEC Services Consulting is working with Joliet Junior College and local workforce boards to help them connect with businesses and industries and resources to foster pathways to register apprenticeship programs.

“We’ve been trying to increase awareness of apprenticeships and create stakeholder groups locally,” said Linda Kaiser, senior project director for TEC.

Earlier this year, Gov. J. B. Pritzker signed into law an employer-education tax credit, which goes into effect in 2020.

Jennifer Foil, a representative for the Illinois Department of Commerce and a senior research associate for Northern Illinois University, said the initiative is hoped to encourage more business to explore apprenticeships. She said employers that are paying for the education piece of the apprenticeship program are eligible for annual tax credit of up to $3,500 per apprentice. That number escalates to $5,000 "if you’re serving underrepresented populations,” she said.

Joliet Junior College intends to cast a wide net to help more businesses in a variety of industries.

“We know apprenticeship is very strong, very prominent in the construction trades — union and non-union,” said Ronda Kliman, apprenticeship and training program specialist for the Illinois Department of Labor. “We know it’s very strong and prominent in advanced manufacturing. We wanted to go ahead and show this work-based training model by using a non-traditional occupations and industries.”

It’s already opening a door for Ottawa resident Jordan Gutierrez, who plans t fulfill his dream of becoming a cook through the program.

His employer, Tangled Roots Brewing Company, enrolled Gutierrez in the program through its partnership with JJC.

“Tangled Roots was my first job,” he said. “Originally, I planned on being a carpenter, but cooking is what I want to do.”

Gutierrez said he is excited to become an apprentice and is relieved knowing he can pursue higher education without getting into a lot of debt.

Currently, he is currently working on the line at Tangled Roots Brewing Company.

Gutierrez intends to start studying in the college’s culinary arts program in January 2020.

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