SWIC expanding its manufacturing training program

Illinois Correspondent

A southern Illinois community college is expanding its manufacturing program to help more students prepare for the workforce.

Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC) is building a $20 million manufacturing training academy that is expected to be finished in September, opening to students in August 2024. SWIC has a number of manufacturing courses at its Granite City campus and is expected to expand significantly with the new Belleville facility.

“The mindset is: We were good before, but this is going to allow us to be better,” Robert Tebbe, chief enrollment, development and institutional planning officer at SWIC, told St. Louis Public Radio. “You can teach a higher level of machining when you have the proper equipment.”

Tebbe said the college will be able to provide more instruction on automated manufacturing, robotics, metal printing and other topics in a more “in-depth and sophisticated curriculum.”

Brad Sparks is dean of technical education and workforce development at SWIC. He told the Belleville News-Democrat that students will learn skills for jobs that could pay them $35 an hour to start. That includes precision machining training, which he said causes one of their biggest challenges: getting students to stay to graduation because employers hire them away before they even finish the program, according to the News-Democrat.

“These are living-wage, raise a family, buy a house, get a nice truck kind of jobs,” Sparks said.

The building will be 33,000 square feet and will have space for future expansion for welding and electrical training. The $20 million is coming from a $7.5 million grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity through the Rebuild Illinois capital improvement plan; a $2.5 million federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration; and $1.5 million in naming rights from Haas Certification, as well as $8.5 million from the college itself.

“One of Southwestern Illinois College’s primary goals is to train students for well-paying, highly skilled, in-demand career fields, and the construction of a manufacturing training academy will bolster these efforts,” said SWIC President Nick Mance when the state grant was announced in April 2021.

“In light of the unemployment rate and economic distress in the area, it is more crucial than ever that students embark on a viable career pathway that leads directly to steady employment paying a living wage or better.”


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