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Congressmen, SIUE and Workforce Partners Announce $1.47 Million Grant
Illinois Ag Connection - 10/13/2020

Congressional members, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville leaders, and representatives from Madison and St. Clair County workforce development departments joined state and local officials to announce a $1.47 million state grant at the Biotechnology Laboratory Incubator on the SIUE campus.

The project, awarded to Madison County Employment and Training Department (MCETD) by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) as part of the U.S. Dept. of Labor Employment Recovery funds, supports dislocated worker education and training in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The grant team has envisioned an innovative approach to 21st century education and training that reflects both the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and the opportunities of modern instructional design and technology for remote and hybrid learning," SIU System President Dan Mahony said. "On behalf of the Southern Illinois University System, I applaud this team's efforts in rising to the challenges posed by the pandemic and finding solutions that meet the needs of students, workers, businesses and communities."

Madison County Employment and Training Dept. has partnered with St. Clair County Intergovernmental Grants Dept. and SIUE to serve 100 dislocated workers participating in an innovative digital badging workforce training program to prepare them for fast-growing occupations such as lab technician, chemical technician and food science technician.

U.S. Congressmen Rodney Davis (IL-13) and Mike Bost (IL-12) emphasized the need for federal investment in education and training to restore economic and workforce recovery.

"I'm excited to see Madison County and SIUE partner up utilizing federal dollars to provide job training to dislocated workers and help them obtain new, good-paying jobs," said Davis. "We had record low unemployment before the Coronavirus pandemic hit. Congress and the administration have worked together to help bring jobs back through efforts like the one we celebrated today. I look forward to seeing the real and meaningful impact this grant will have on people's lives."

"COVID-19 has changed how we educate, do business, and connect with others. It also means that the types of jobs and work we do will adapt as well," said Bost. "This grant will not only help 100 Southern Illinoisans who are out of work but will also train them in scientific fields that will discover vaccines and treatments for this virus."

As part of the project, Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act dollars will be leveraged to support trainees' progression through digital badges leading to industry-aligned credentials and on-the-job training agreements with local employers.

"Digital badges and related alternative or micro- credentials demonstrate great promise as a strategy for closing the skills gap, and supporting the alignment of industry skills with innovative curricular offerings and applied, hands-on learning," said Mary Ettling, SIUE director of online and education outreach. "This project will serve those dislocated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with 100 trainees anticipated to complete the program in the next 18 months to two years. The training, which incorporates online learning, remote reality elements and competency-based in-person learning, leads to industry-aligned credentials in high-demand jobs."

The program was developed utilizing a gap analysis (Economic Modeling Services Inc. Analyst data) to identify areas of disconnect between the skills sought by regional employers versus the skills possessed by applicants for the job. Utilizing this data, employer interviews were conducted to better understand the desired skill level for each competency and opportunities for on-the-job-training upon completion of the credential. Each industry-aligned credential consists of 6-10 digital badges which reflect the specific competencies sought by employers for each target occupation.

"This grant will help fund dislocated workers during a time it's most needed," Madison County Chairman Kurt Prenzler said. "Due to COVID-19, unemployment is at an all-time high. This innovative program offers dislocated workers an opportunity to prepare for in-demand technician jobs."

Throughout the training program, education and workforce partners will work with local employers to establish on-the-job training agreements for program graduates. Madison and St. Clair County workforce training departments, SIUE, and employer and community partners have developed a recruitment strategy to identify eligible, qualified and committed individuals for this project with an emphasis on recruiting a diverse and inclusive participant pool.

"This award reflects SIUE's commitment to shaping a changing world, both inside the classroom and in the community, and demonstrates great potential to meet both critical workforce needs and to drive economic development in our region. Building a stronger, job-ready workforce for these industries can make our region more competitive to companies seeking to relocate or expand their operations," SIUE Chancellor Randy Pembrook said. "The grant team is committed to working with trainees, employers, and faculty across the University to ensure that participants have access to education and training beyond the initial program, including on-ramps into our newly launched Online Degree Completion Program, corporate partnerships, and other innovative opportunities to help workers continue to advance their education and their careers."

To learn more about the project, including employer partnership or for details on how to apply, contact MCETD at 618-296-4445.

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