In an effort to invest in and empower the local workforce, Waubonsee Community College is working directly with local manufacturers to address their specific workplace needs.

Facilitated by a Skilled to Build grant from the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center, Waubonsee’s Aurora Manufacturers Workplace Literacy Program helps local manufacturers attract new employees, retain skilled workers and upskill their current workforce.

The program, tailored to the specific requirements of local manufacturers, offers embedded workplace English language instruction, and individuals with limited work history were provided opportunities to gain valuable hands-on experience in manufacturing through paid work experiences.

Collaborating with four local manufacturers, Waubonsee offered English language acquisition and high school equivalency classes at off-campus locations, benefiting more than 90 students. Each class had a unique structure designed to meet the employer’s needs, with variation in the intensity and frequency of instruction.

“The off-site English language acquisition classes have provided participants a convenient opportunity to fit much-needed English classes into their already busy lives,” shared Maria Fisher, English language acquisition instructor. “Due to the intense need and desire to better acclimate into life in the United States, student attendance and participation are strong at our off-site locations, resulting in noticeable acquisition and use of needed language. These classes provide students not only English for use in daily activities outside the workplace, but also language to enhance and promote their work-related experiences.”

To reach a new generation of manufacturers, Waubonsee provided short-term work opportunities to students interested in manufacturing, but with no hands-on experience. To offer diverse workplace options and to engage employer partners, Waubonsee tapped into its existing network, as well as worked with the Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce to expand the employer pool. These diverse workplace options led to success stories like Seth Ruckh, who secured permanent employment with Fabtek Aero.

“This experience presented a new opportunity to experience different aspects of the welding industry, including the education side, and provided a local job doing what I love,” Ruckh said. “This grant provided a path straight into a wonderful fulfilling career.”

The efforts culminated in a panel presentation and discussion at the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion conference at Waubonsee’s Sugar Grove campus in October for more than 200 local high school students.

The day’s summit incorporated keynote speakers, group activities, and breakout sessions to discuss DEI topics. Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center Director of DEI Paola Velasquez facilitated a panel discussion on “DEI Principles in the Workplace: A Manufacturing Focus,” with representatives from Aurora Textiles, Timken Aurora Bearing, the Fox Valley Career Center, and Fabtek Aero’s Seth Ruckh.

Suzanne Markin, Waubonsee’s workforce education manager, emphasized the program’s success in meeting learners where they are, and integrating instruction into their workday without sacrificing family time.

“Our employer partners recognize the value this holds, and the investment in their workforce was an additionally welcome way to provide pathways to career advancement opportunities,” Markin said. “It was also important to Waubonsee to prioritize funds focused on providing young adults exposure to the manufacturing industry, which allowed for critical entry points into gainful employment with equity-minded employers.”

As Waubonsee remains dedicated to serving its manufacturing community, the lasting impact of the Manufacturers Workplace Literacy Program promises to continue benefiting District 516, paving the way for a more skilled and inclusive workforce.

To learn more about how your business can partner with Waubonsee for customized training, professional development opportunities and more, visit

Waubonsee Community College’s Sugar Grove campus.
Daily Herald file



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