KANKAKEE — There was a great showing at the Majestic Theatre in Kankakee for the inaugural awards dinner hosted by the Grundy Livingston Kankakee Workforce Board on Tuesday, June 26.
The dinner, sponsored in part by Nicor, is a celebration of the strides made in recruiting and retaining employment services in the three-county region. Over 60 service providers, business and municipal leaders, and guests were in attendance for the event, which honored just a few of many businesses that have partnered with the Workforce Board to serve the residents of Grundy, Livingston and Kankakee Counties.
Caroline Portlock, GLKWB chair and CEO of the Grundy County Chamber, welcomed guests while reminding the crowd that federally-funded employment and training programs serve an important role in our society by helping job seekers enhance their job skills, identify job opportunities, and obtain employment.
“For many, there has never been a more important time to receive assistance from their local one stop or workforce investment board,” stated Portlock. “We could never provide these services without our program and business partners.”
Ladonna Russell, GLKWB Executive Director, explained the role of a workforce board.
“GLKWB receives approximately $2 million per year for the three county area, however, we continue to experience reduced funding every year,” stated Russell. “We are able to maintain a great return on investment: for every dollar spent on workforce funds, the return of investment for every WIA dollar spent is $2.60.”
Russell then named a few of the board’s accomplishments including the addition of the new business services coordinator position to outreach to businesses in Grundy and Livingston Counties to communicate and discover local workforce needs as well as the results of the labor market study. Russell announced that the GLKWB applied and was awarded an $80,000 grant to help veterans with their workforce needs.
Along with Russell, Michael Bossert, Kankakee County Board chair and GLKWB CEO, presented the following awards.
Individual Achievement awards
This award was given to an individual who has set career and workforce development goals which could include upgrading skills sets through additional training/education and have been successful in accomplishing the goals.
• Kim Herda, Grundy County
A resume with 30 years of employment speaks volumes about an employee, but without a degree, many strong candidates are left with the struggle of qualifying their experience. After years of working in administrative support, Herda was one of those candidates until she started working with Grundy Workforce Services.
Due to changes in the economic climate, her employer was forced to close the office, leaving Herda to reenter the workforce in less than favorable conditions. Understanding the challenges of dislocation, she reached out for help. With assistance from her workforce skills coordinator, Melissa Pilch, Herdaclosely examined her situation. While she had some experience with computer programs and office technology, she realized that in order to be the most qualified candidate she needed to enhance her existing skill set. After evaluating many different possibilities, it was agreed that getting a degree that complimented her existing experience while updating her technology skills was the best option of an Associate’s Degree for Administrative Assistant at Joliet Junior College.
Herda notes “Without WIA, I would not have been able to return to school. My workforce coordinator is extremely supportive and has been very helpful with everything every step of the way. Melissa suggested the first few classes I completed were computer classes. These classes make me more marketable in the workforce and they have already paid off.”
Shortly after Herda completed her first few classes, she found employment at a higher than local average wage in the healthcare industry. She currently works as a Medical Equipment Liaison for Quality Healthcare, through Provena Mercy Hospital.
• Casey Pennington, Livingston County
After struggling in high school because of a learning disability, Pennington reluctantly made the decision to quit school, at the age of 17. He soon came to Futures Unlimited, Inc. to obtain services in the Employment Services (ES) program. When Pennington began his services the Youth Employment Services (YES) program that is funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) was full so he accepted services in the job placement program. Within a few months a spot came open and Pennington began working with the YES services facilitator to set up his short and long term goals and start the journey towards his success. Success to him is to live in his own apartment with his own possessions.
Pennington’s first goal was to take classes to work toward his GED. He began attending one on one class with the ES classroom instructor. Pennington and his instructor focused on how Pennington learns. He was able to use those tools and continue his GED journey by attending night classes at Heartland Community College.
At the time of his enrollment in the YES program Pennington lived in Chatsworth with his grandparents. This created an obstacle for Pennington because transportation to anywhere outside of Chatsworth was difficult. Pennington knew that he would need to move to Pontiac if he wanted to be able to keep a job but without the job he didn’t know how he was going to be able to move to Pontiac.
Through the YES program Pennington had the opportunity to do a paid work experience with Vonachen Services Inc. (VSI) at Caterpillar in Pontiac. Transportation was not going to be an issue because VSI was willing to work with Futures transportation schedule. Pennington went into this opportunity determined to show everyone what he could do. He listened to what his supervisors said and followed through. If Pennington didn’t understand an instruction he would discuss it with his “job coach”; however, he didn’t need the coach for long.
When his work experience ended, Pennington was thrilled to learn he was being offered a full-time position as a material handler. VSI continued to allow him to use Futures transportation. With this new, steady income Pennington was able to find an apartment in Pontiac that he could afford and purchase his own furniture. Unfortunately, VSI would soon have a layoff that affected many workers; however, Pennington had moved to Pontiac, and was so flexible he was able to stay and avoid the layoff with only having his hours cut by a few days each month.
Pennington is now back to full time hours and working on third shift. He continues to live in his own apartment surrounded by his own possessions. In September of 2011 Pennington was honored with his one-year certificate and pin from VSI.
At the presentation, he told his services facilitator and the program manager “Without Futures and the YES program I would not be where I am today. Thanks for everything.”
• Merissa Hubert, Kankakee County
Hubert, a single mother of three, came to WIA in 2007 while struggling to fund her education to change careers. She did work at Kmart Distribution Center for about eight years, but the job became so stressful that her health began to suffer. Hubert had a desire and a gift as a caregiver, and she was pursuing a career as a registered nurse. She came to WIA looking for help in funding her career change because up to the point of enrollment she had to work two sometimes three jobs in order to support her children, herself, and her education.
Hubert recently completed her RN program at Kankakee Community College, passed her boards, and on May 14, she was to start her new job at Provena St. Mary’s Hospital as a RN, where she will be working in the EKG and Advanced Cardiac Life Support Unit. With her new employment, Hubert’s wages will increase by nearly $10 per hour.
Hubert had this to say about her experience with WIA: “I can’t thank WIA and my counselors enough for giving me a second chance in life with a new career. WIA has been wonderful, encouraging, and very supportive even through the toughest times. I am forever grateful and can’t thank WIA enough.”
Workforce Excellence awards
The Workforce Excellence Award recognizes a local employer that has demonstrated leadership and made contributions to workforce/economic development opportunities.
• Walnut Grove, Grundy County
Established in 1989, Walnut Grove continues to grow as a skilled nursing facility, employing approximately 145 registered nurses, certified nurses aids and other supportive staff. Committed to resident needs, the recently expanded facility includes daily occupational and physical therapy, day activities and a Medicaid/Medicare annex. In addition to 30 independent living cottages, it currently has 123 beds, with 99 beds dedicated to long term care residents and 24 beds for short term rehabilitation. Its “rehab to home” unit was renovated in June 2010 with plans to continue renovations throughout the facility.
Understanding the demands of a growing resident population, Walnut Grove has aligned with the Grundy Workforce Services to address workforce needs. Through participation in the annual Grundy job fair, postings on the job board and working closely with the youth internship program, Walnut Grove strives to employ the most qualified local candidates and develop their future workforce.
Currently, Walnut Grove is working closely with several Grundy youth clients in areas of medical records and nursing care. One youth client recently completed his internship and training in Joliet Junior College’s Certified Nursing Assistant program. With the completion of this training and work experience, Walnut Grove elected to continue employment with this client as a CNA. In addition, Walnut Grove is currently working with another youth client through an internship in the medical records field.
• Manpower Inc., Livingtston County
Manpower, Inc. continues to be a resource in the area of workforce development and training for residents of Livingston County. In working with area employers, Manpower addressed a strong need for welders in the Livingston area. After a round-table discussion that included the Workforce Investment Board, the Greater Livingston County Economic Development Council (GLCEDC), the Livingston Area Career Center (LACC), local employers and Manpower, an adult welding class was designed to address this need.
Manpower was instrumental in working with the LACC to design a welding class specific to the employer needs. The class of nine unemployed adults received 40 hours of welding instruction over two weeks. Upon completion of the class, each of the graduates took and passed a welding test administered by Manpower, Inc. All nine graduates have been hired by local companies and are now gainfully employed and beginning a new career as a welder.
Manpower, Inc. was instrumental in identifying a local need and bringing together the resources needed to address this concern. This initiative is truly a collaborative effort with resources pulled from Manpower, the Grundy Livingston Kankakee Workforce Board and the GLCEDC through the county providing a $7,000 grant to the Livingston Area Career Center for the purchase and repair of welding equipment to be used for training adults in basic welding.
• Riverside Healthcare, Kankakee County
Riverside Healthcare has continued to be a leader in the community regarding workforce development. Through the Nursing Excellence and Magnet accreditation, Riverside provided resources and support to staff to upgrade their workforce skills. Riverside works and partners with Options Center for Independent Living by providing job shadowing that shows youth with barriers that there are many employment opportunities in a health care setting besides the technical (nursing, doctors, etc.) jobs. This gives youth encouragement in their employment opportunities.
Riverside also partners with the Kankakee Community College Youth Program Services. Riverside has been a paid work experience site for many years for our youth even though in some years the youth are not as “job ready” as we would like them to be. However, Riverside continues the partnership and even hires the youth after program if they were a success.