By Pam Adams
EAST PEORIA — Illinois Central College President John Erwin urged U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos to push for federal resources to help schools and businesses meet the area’s needs for a skilled work force. And Bustos said she wants to help.
Bustos, D-East Moline, toured ICC’s job-training programs in agricultural and industrial technologies building Tuesday on the second day of a tour this week of the seven community colleges in the 17th Congressional District.
Local employers, educators and other officials discussed the current regional collaboration, Focus Forward CI, to address central Illinois’ work force needs in manufacturing, health care and agriculture. But, Erwin said, once Focus Forward identifies the best ways to ease shortages of workers with the skills employers actually need, the area could use Bustos’ help advocating for grants and other resources to carry out solutions.
“We think community colleges are the answer to filling the skills gap,” Bustos said. The purpose of the tour, she added, is to gather ideas that can become legislation.
A member of Congress just three months, Bustos said Focus Forward’s goals to build a skilled work force, particularly in manufacturing, mesh well with congressional goals to build up the middle class. She sits on the agriculture committee and the transportation and infrastructure committee, along with the health innovations task force.
Before the tour, Bustos sat in on a meeting of Focus Forward’s workplace action committee at ICC and asked members what they’re looking for in an employee.
“One of the biggest roadblocks in recruiting is soft skills,” said Steve Stewart of Excel Foundry and Machines in Pekin, referring to skills such as honesty, attitude and work ethic. “We can train you to become a great machinist but we cannot train you to fit into our culture.”