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Waubonsee Community College in northern Illinois is the only two-year college in America that offers a temp worker safety training program. The genesis of the program can be traced to research the college did with Emsi’s local labor market data that helped bring in $225,000 in federal grants.
“Emsi data absolutely helped us make a convincing case for this need,” says Cheryl Gray, a grant writer at Waubonsee.
Coming out of the grip of the recession, the temp workforce grew pretty much everywhere. Nowhere in the US, however, was the surge in temp jobs greater than in the counties in northern Illinois that Waubonsee Community College serves.
It wasn’t just the huge growth in temp jobs from 2011 to 2015 that caught Waubonsee’s attention. Cheryl Gray, a grant writer for the workforce development division of the college, also noticed in her research with Emsi’s labor market software that temporary help services was the largest industry in the region.
“You’ve got all of these pieces that Emsi provided, and each time I would dig deeper into Emsi, it was like getting a new piece of the puzzle,” Gray says.
Two other important pieces were Emsi’s workforce demographics and staffing pattern data. The population in Waubonsee’s service area—which includes urban, rural, and suburban communities outside of Chicago—is 31% Hispanic. With Emsi, Gray found that Hispanics made up a sizable proportion of the temp industry in the region. She also saw the occupations that are most common in the temp industry in her region, which gave her and the college an idea of the type of workers going into temp work settings.
“Two plus two came together with Emsi data,” Gray adds. “Just those pieces told us that there may be some need for some customized training.”
Compelling Data Equals Compelling Case for Grants
Equipped with this compelling data, Gray started scanning for grants related to the temp industry. She saw the Department of Labor was interested in the safety of temp workers, and that’s when Waubonsee applied for—and won—two safety training grants from the Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA) in 2014 and 2015 totaling $225,000.
“OSHA has provided these grants for a very long time, more than 30 years, but only recently have provided grants for temp worker training,” Gray says. “And so I’m really proud that Waubonsee is the only community college in the country that has a temp worker training program.”
Waubonsee now provides four hours of free safety training (in both Spanish and English) geared to industrial, manufacturing, warehousing, and recycling work. It has trained nearly 500 workers to date.
What does Gray take away from all this? Reflecting on the process, she identifies the true kick-start: understanding key industries in Waubonsee’s service area.
“The initial understanding of our industries in this region was the inspiration for all of this,” she says. “Now it’s become not just an issue of getting grants but of bringing this information to light for economic development purposes, for human resource purposes.”
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