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Heartland Community College to grow apprentice program to train workers

Heartland Community College overhead
Heartland Community College/flickr
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Heartland Community College in north Normal will start a program to train workers for Ferrero North America.

As a $75 million candy plant expansion gets under way in Bloomington, Heartland Community College will expand a program to train workers for Ferrero North America.

Heartland President Keith Cornille said it will be similar to programs the college already offers, but it will be an apprenticeship that will tailor course offerings to the plant in particular.

"The other side of that coin is that they are employees with Ferrero and they are working on site in that hands-on, practical type of learning as well as supplementing it with what is happening in the classroom," Cornille told WGLT.

He said in apprentice programs, the company usually bears the cost of instruction, adding Ferrero has extensive experience with apprenticeships in Italy.

"We can't speak to the details of what Ferrero apprenticeship programs look like in Italy," said company representative Hugh McMullen.

"It's great to have a partner that really understands apprenticeships and how they work, like Ferrero, and is willing to say this is a great model to help people up-skill or to get the skills necessary for them to be high performers in their organization," said Cornille.

The college and company are still in talks about the details of the one- to two-year program that could certify five to six workers per year to start. He said Heartland hopes to finalize the agreement by January.

"We are starting the program at two maintenance workers. We do hope to have the employees start the apprenticeship program in January, ideally with people that are in-house and have received an award for that role," said McMullen for Ferrero.

Workforce shortage

Heartland is one of the large employers in Bloomington-Normal that usually has a role in solving workforce shortages, such as the one that plagues central Illinois along with much of the nation. Cornille said the college also is seeing evidence of the smaller-than-optimum number of workers in the area. The college usually has a pretty stable employment picture because the job setting and benefits are attractive, said Cornille.

"In places where we have had some vacancies it's taking us longer to find some employees to hire, so I think we're starting to see some of the same pains that others feel in our community," said Cornille.

One bright spot the college is seeing is higher enrollment for training in workforce areas that could quickly address one of the reasons for the workforce shortage — childcare. The number of people enrolled in early childhood education degree tracks is more than double from before the pandemic: 70 now, up from 32 in the fall of 2019. Some of those students are also in an Early Childhood Practitioner Prep Partnership with Illinois State University.

Agriculture program

As Heartland moves ahead with a new agriculture instruction complex, Cornille said enrollment in that area continues to grow — up 30% in the fall semester. He said the college wants to supplement what is happening in high schools and at ISU and the University of Illinois. That could have the effect of keeping young adults in the region instead of them moving out of the area for college, he said.

There also are also shorter-term workforce needs. Cornille said HCC has received approval for several certificate programs in such things as pesticides, precision technology, and fertilization.

"Everything is in place to begin responding to employment needs," he said.

Also, Heartland plans for a 48,000-square-foot project are in the design phase. The project could cost up to $25 million and include greenhouses, classrooms, precision technology, and flex labs. There also would be a large space to bring in big pieces of equipment or to hold events, such as FFA groups from high schools to increase community involvement, said Cornille, who anticipates a ground breaking in late spring, with completion 18 months later.

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Corrected: October 21, 2021 at 11:38 AM CDT
This story has been changed to add company statements. It also clarifies the company position that the apprentice program deals with maintenance workers and not candy workers and that it builds on an existing apprentice agreement with Heartland Community College.
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