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Renovated Waubonsee Community College campus is geared towards in-demand "new collar" tech jobs

Illinois residents are quitting their jobs in record numbers. That’s leaving workforce shortages across a number of sectors.

During the pandemic, Waubonsee Community College renovated & redesigned one of its campuses to house its Innovation & Design Centerand meet community job demands.

The center focuses on tech-related jobs that are highly in-demand and often high-paying but don’t require a conventional four-year college career path. Those types of jobs are sometimes referred to as “New Collar” jobs.

It includes programs like cybersecurity and computer-aided design. Ne’Keisha Stepney is the college's executive dean for business, technology and workforce education.

“You can make more than a living wage graduating with a certificate or degree in one of these areas,” she said. “And one of the things about cybersecurity, in particular, is we prepare students to sit for industry-recognized credentials & certification.”

It’s common for cybersecurity or automotive technology students to earn a credential in a year or two and make close to six figures — or more — right out of the gate, according to Stepney.

She said national trends and a community needs assessment guided Waubonsee's investment in these programs.

“Right now, there are 15,838 jobs related to cybersecurity open in the state of Illinois,” she said. “There's no reason why high school students are not made aware of this career pathway. There's no reason why those that are looking for a career change [shouldn’t be made aware].”

Community college enrollment took a major hit during the pandemic, but Stepney said they’re seeing increases at their Innovation & Design Center. And, because of the demand, they’re offering more courses than ever for programs like welding technology and cybersecurity.

Peter joins WNIJ as a graduate of North Central College. He is a native of Sandwich, Illinois.