Career Academy

Four students in a welding class work together in this 2014 photo.

EFFINGHAM — Committees working on a plan to build an academy that will train adults and high school students for vocations aren’t deterred by the lack of state funding. Wheels are turning and the program’s launch is around the corner.

Advocates for the Effingham Regional Career Academy are trudging forward. Committees have been working on operations, funding, marketing, workforce readiness and programs and curriculum, said Norma Lansing, treasurer for the proposed academy’s board of directors.

The proposed 36,000-square-foot facility is expected to cost $12 million and take 34 months to construct. Within the cost, proponents of the project hope to collect $9 million from the state and fund the remaining $3 million with grants, fundraising and local funds.

An expansion of the Kluthe Center for Higher Education and Technology in Effingham, the project is crucial to building the region’s workforce, according to officials.

Soon, the public will be able to utilize some of the programming. The goal is to offer a unique combination of high school students and incumbent training for workforces, Lansing explained.

“By the beginning of next school year, we want to have two high school-level programs ready to go,” said Lansing. “Our program curriculum committee is working on what those programs might be.”

As an initial start into the program, it was determined that welders were needed. Lansing said LLC, Effingham High School and the chamber teamed up with local employers to upgrade the EHS program and it is now offered to adults as a night class, through Lake Land College. Enrollment is underway now for these classes.

The Regional Academy’s board president, Jeff Fritchtnitch, said wheels are turning for the newest programs to get off the ground.

“We are moving forward on two courses to be offered countywide for the 2017-2018 school year in the vocational training curricular area,” said Fritchtnitch, the superintendent of Altamont school district. “The guidance counselors from each of the county high schools met on Sept. 29 for logistics discussions and another meeting is being planned that will include principals and superintendents to gain clarity for a plan of action.”

Surveys about employment needs are being sent out to measure such things as the region’s skills gap. One survey measures the area’s quality of life, a key factor in attracting workers.

“We’re excited about how this is going,” Lansing said.

Once funding is in place and the building gets constructed, it will be owned by Lake Land College. The program will be owned by an entity yet to be determined — a detail officials are still sorting out. A date has not yet been set for the start of construction.

“There’s still no government funding allotted, but we are still working toward our goal,” said Lansing. “It will take some time, but we aren’t just sitting around waiting for the funding to happen. Our funding support committee is looking for alternatives, while we wait for funding to come through.”

The career academy is a partnership of area businesses, schools, Effingham County Chamber of Commerce, state and local government and various community stakeholders. It recently elected its executive committee to include Jeff Fritchtnitch, president, Altamont CUSD 10; Joe Forbes, vice president, Versatech LLC; Josh Bullock, secretary, Lake Land College; and Norma Lansing, treasurer, Effingham County Chamber of Commerce.

The board of directors meets at 2:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of January, April, July and October in the Unit 40 Board office.

Lansing said the plan for a regional academy has been talked about for years, but the idea started with conversations she had with school administrators in Effingham County.

Fritchtnitch recalled those early days.

“The original idea came six years ago when I was hearing from local contractors that students who were graduating didn’t have the proper skills for employment,” said Fritchtnitch. “I then held an education-business roundtable discussion to learn more about what employer expectations were.”

After gathering information, he shared it with other superintendents in a meeting and with Lansing. Later, Lake Land College officials came on board, about four years ago, which spurred discussions about preparing the next workforce. Talks have continued with the college and area high schools, which led to the creation of the Construction Trades of Effingham County, now in its second year.

But, soon the need was found to go beyond construction jobs.

“Manufacturers were still looking for assistance; so we have been working for the past three years on the concept and development of the Effingham County Regional Career Academy,” said Fritchtnitch.

Some technical skills that might also be in demand are automotive techs, plumbers or electricians. Using what programs are already in county schools might be one way to get the program off the ground.

Fritchtnitch said they want to fill whatever skill is needed. Lansing said the program will be flexible to whatever the technical needs may be at a given time.

He believes state funding will come.

“Governor Rauner has repeatedly stated that we need to create jobs and also train employees to work in manufacturing,” said Fritchtnitch. “Since he has held true to these statements, there is a reasonable expectation that Capital Development Funding is still viable. We have a meeting set with our legislators on Oct. 19 to discuss this topic and we are looking for their support when the fall veto session comes to order.”

“This is a huge undertaking,” said Fritchtnitch. “All committees have already met or will be meeting in early October. We have added an additional committee since our last discussion and that is marketing. We feel it is important to assist the finance committee with a marketing committee in the advertisement and development of brochures, fliers and the like, when meeting with businesses and individuals.”

Lansing said from a business side they realize that technical education is as important as a college education. High school students in either junior or senior year could utilize the training. Adults needing retraining or career change training could also use the academy.

“Not every student is geared for a four-year college degree,” she said. “This will give high school students a two-year technical training, and they could still go on to college — or directly into the workforce and have a leg up on finding a job.”

Fritchtnitch said the ongoing discussions among county schools are encouraging.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151, ext. 138.

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