Bolstering economic development/activity in the Schaumburg area is one of the five pillars of the Schaumburg Business Association (SBA). Retaining existing businesses of all descriptions is paramount in order to keep local residents gainfully employed and to support community facilities and services like parks, police and fire, public education and public works (roads, water mains, sewers, parkway trees and even snow removal).
Without the funds and employment that businesses bring to the Schaumburg area, people would undoubtedly be much less interested in living in the Village.
“We, at the Schaumburg Business Association, are actively working to provide the globally-connected businesses that we have here with a well-trained and educated workforce so that they can continue to grow and meet their own goals,” said Kyle Schulz, economic director for the SBA.
“Today’s businesses are all about ‘globalization’ and while some American companies have chosen to move facilities to Mexico or China in order to take advantage of cheap labor, other industries understand that they need to stay here because they need a well-educated workforce to make their high quality products,” he added. “Schaumburg’s economy is literally based on its skilled workforce.”
From the time a child enters the local schools, to the time – years later – that they walk into a work facility, they are being educationally prepared to replace the Baby Boomers who have been working in local firms for years and now want to retire, Schulz noted.
The SBA works with partners across the local area, the region and even the state to recruit workers and fill jobs in Schaumburg, just as they try whenever possible to absorb workers whose companies have chosen to relocate out of Illinois. They also work in local high schools to create among teenage students an awareness of the opportunities and advantages of working in manufacturing (and to overcome prejudices about manufacturing being an undesirable field of endeavor).
The SBA organizes tours of local manufacturing facilities so that students can view them firsthand and see the real-life products they produce locally – like frozen pizzas and straws for WD40 cans.
“They are blown away when they see these facilities because they expect them to be dark and dirty and instead they discover that most local manufacturing plants are cleaner than local homes – especially those with pets,” Schulz said.
“During 2018 the SBA plans to focus even more on the challenges which businesses face when it comes to hiring and retaining qualified employees,” he added. “We must do this if we want to keep the local economy healthy. We need to be the local entity that connects everyone to resources and services offered by local, county and state governmental entities. We are kind of the traffic cop for all of those interactions in hopes we can add jobs and grow our local economy. By doing so, we control and shape our own local growth.”
One of the SBA’s best local partners is Harper College in Palatine, which is becoming nationally recognized for its non-traditional apprenticeships. For several years it has been providing a plethora of educational programs to train future employees for local manufacturers. But now it has further expanded its reach by offering apprenticeship programs in fields of study that have never before been considered for such work-study programs in the United States – like insurance, cyber security, graphic arts and banking/finance. In fact, community college leaders from across the country are coming to Harper to observe the programs in action and are seeking help in setting up their own programs.
Until two years ago, apprenticeships were not even in the lexicon of community colleges across this country, but since President Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2015 when he proposed them, they have been taking off across the country with the full support of the U.S. Departments of Labor, Commerce and Education, according to Rebecca Lake, dean of workforce and economic development at Harper. Obama’s interest in apprenticeships happened to coincide with Zurich Insurance Group’s interest in such a program.
“Zurich Insurance Group approached us in early 2015, wanting to create an apprenticeship program like they have in Europe, which would train students to become underwriters and mid-level claims adjustors,” Lake said. About two-thirds of high school-aged students in Switzerland opt for such a vocational training program, which combines work experience with higher education.
“Soon afterward, the Illinois Bankers Association also came to us wanting to start an apprenticeship program for loan officers and managers and other companies have followed, asking about apprenticeships in fields like supply chain management, graphic arts, cyber security and several other areas,” Lake said. As a result, by fall 2018, apprenticeships are expected to be offered at Harper in a total of nine fields and students who participate will graduate after two years with Associate of Applied Science degrees.
But while they are studying, they will be simultaneously working for their sponsoring firm. They will work in the firms on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and study at Harper on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Their employers will pay them a salary and will simultaneously pay their tuition. In addition, the credits they receive from their Harper efforts will be transferable if they later choose to study for a bachelor’s degree at a four-year university, Lake said.
Harper currently has 92 registered apprentices in four different programs. Apprentices mirror the diversity of the college’s overall student body, representing high school graduates and older career changers spanning a wide range of ages – from 18 to 57 years old – and a variety of racial and ethnic populations.
Among current apprentices, Harper College enjoys an 84 percent retention rate and the average student grade point average is 3.61, which is excitingly high.
“We have an academic coach who regularly meets with each apprentice and with members of the faculty to monitor how students are doing in their studies and who also regularly visits their employers to see how they are doing on their jobs,” Lake said.
“In addition, we welcome our cooperating companies to send their on-the-job mentors to four training sessions each year. We teach them how to both assess and motivate their apprentices, breaking the instruction down into basic, easy-to-follow steps.”
“We feel that these apprenticeship programs are a win for the sponsoring companies, for the students and for Harper College, too.” Lake said.
In fact, the White House awarded Harper at $2.5 million federal grant in 2015 to support the Harper “Apprenticeships on Demand” initiative, calling them the “ultimate learn and earn” opportunity.
And then-Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu hailed Harper’s white-collar apprenticeship efforts, stating that “this model is what post-secondary education has to be about in this country.”