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Not everyone can be a rocket scientist and not everyone can be an auto mechanic. But the training opportunities for both — and everything in between — are part of a new focus by the Illinois Community College Board.

A statewide task force on adult education and literacy is expected to complete its report by Jan. 31, looking at what works, what doesn't, what can be improved and what can be added to the state's community college pipeline.

And, not surprisingly, some of the changes need to address workplace skills like resume writing, interviewing, communication and time management. Without them, even the best-trained student will find it difficult to land a job in the field of his or her choice. But the task force also is expected to look at public-private partnerships, skills training specific to a local field, and long-term careers rather than just short-term jobs.

Take, for example, a fast-food worker. On-the-job training can provide the knowledge about how to punch a cash register; more training and the ability to communicate, or "upsell" a meal, could mean a better-paying job as a server at a sit-down restaurant. A talented cook might look beyond that to the possibility of working for an upscale caterer, teaching a class, or opening his or her own cafe. Each transition to higher success requires more training in business, math, marketing, human resources and communication in addition to skills for the primary job.

“Adult education isn't about getting students a high school equivalency certificate anymore. It's about preparing them for training programs that can get them good jobs,” task force Chairwoman Karen Hunter Anderson, executive director of the ICCB, recently told The Pantagraph.

At Heartland Community College, for instance, the Integrated Career and Academic Preparation System lets students take some academic courses at the same time they are taking preparation courses for their high school equivalency degree.

“The whole culture of adult education has shifted and I think it's wonderful,” said Kerry Urquizo, director of adult education at Heartland. 

Today's community colleges offer a wide variety of classes, seminars and training not just for students but for community members of all ages. The colleges work with local businesses to provide specialized help (witness HCC's veterans program, or its transition program for Mitsubishi workers) and learning for everyone.

The task force report could carry a strong message to state lawmakers, education leaders and the business community. Let's hope the results pay off sooner rather than later.

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