Rend Lake College and Continental Tire welcomed a new batch of apprentices Friday who are taking advantage of this rewarding program bolstering the Southern Illinois workforce.
Officials with CTA and RLC held a press conference to recognize the 14 apprentices in the program for the Fall 2023 semester. One is a new apprentice in the Information Technology program. Nine are in their second year of the Industrial Electronics and Maintenance Technician program, and another seven are in their third year on the INEL track. It’s the largest group of CTA fall apprentices since it was offered eight years ago. With the inclusion of this new group, the total count of CTA apprentices in the program has reached an impressive 31.
RLC President Terry Wilkerson congratulated the apprentices, along with their family members and loved ones who were there to support them. “We are proud of our students,” Wilkerson said. “It’s our job to ensure they get a good quality education, and we do that through partnerships like [Continental Tire].”
This was the first year CTA welcomed new apprentices and workers in such a grand fashion at the Mt. Vernon plant. The event included refreshments, a tour of the plant, and an appearance from State Representative Dave Severin. He has hope that, with this apprenticeship opportunity at Continental Tire, young people will see the value of staying in Southern Illinois. He said partnerships between industry and education like this lead to success and endless possibilities.
Since 2015, CTA and RLC have partnered to provide the apprenticeship opportunity. At its core, the apprenticeship initiative bridges the gap between classroom learning and real-world experiences. Under the guidance of on-the-job mentors, apprentices receive hands-on opportunities to hone their technical expertise and gain insights into Continental Tire's processes.
Nick Pearce, the Plant Manager of Continental Tire in Mt. Vernon, expressed the importance of manufacturing and industrial engineering apprenticeships like the one offered at RLC and the value they hold in the future of Southern Illinois and beyond. He praised RLC for always going in with an open mind, constantly looking toward the next step, and finding ways to do better for the community and its students.
“Continental Tire shares Rend Lake College’s belief that apprenticeship is an investment in our future workforce in Southern Illinois,” said RLC Director of Apprenticeships, Community, & Corporate Education Tonya Odum. “Apprenticeship directly addresses skill shortages through tailored training programs. This not only fills immediate job vacancies but also contributes to the long-term sustainability of the workforce, enhancing the overall productivity of our region.”
Continental Tire (CT) has offered an apprenticeship program in coordination with Rend Lake College (RLC) since 2015. Tonya Odum, the Director of Apprenticeships, Community, and Corporate Education at RLC, said, “We are thrilled to collaborate with area industry to offer apprenticeship opportunities because it aligns with our mission of fostering workforce development and preparing students for successful careers. […] We look forward to starting the Fall 2023 Apprenticeship cohort with Continental Tire!”
The Dual Education System's practice is based on the German Apprenticeship model, which CT founded; this model gained global recognition for its successful combination of practical work placements, theory, and hands-on application with academic training. Continental Tire believes these apprenticeships are not only beneficial for the company but also set up new employees for success.
Brody Wilson had nothing but positive things to say, “This Fall, fifteen new Rend Lake College students will embark on the apprenticeship program at Continental Tire. As newly enrolled apprentices, they can look forward to a well-structured and supportive hands-on learning experience, complementing their on-campus studies and focusing on developing essential skills and knowledge in the Industrial Electronics and Maintenance field. […] Within Continental Tire’s collaborative and supportive atmosphere, teamwork and knowledge sharing are encouraged, allowing apprentices to collaborate with experienced professionals in real-world scenarios.”
Q: Why did you choose to pursue a career as a Medical Assistant?
A: I chose to become a Medical Assistant because I have always wanted to work in healthcare and help people. Being in the healthcare field is the best way for me to care for others.
Q: What did you do before working for Shawnee Health?
A: Before working for Shawnee Health, I was a part-time secretary for a local church. Since it was part-time, I was able to focus on my apprenticeship.
Q: How did you learn about the apprenticeship?
A: My mother works for Shawnee Health and received an email about the new apprenticeship program through Shawnee; she told me about the new program, and I jumped at the opportunity.
Q: How has the apprenticeship experience been beneficial?
A: The apprenticeship allowed me to practice what I was learning as I learned it. When you can learn and then experience what you learned about firsthand, it helps you better understand.
Q: What advice would you give a new apprentice?
A: I advise any new apprentice to pay attention and try to learn as much as possible. Do not be afraid to ask questions. Be willing to try new things and learn from others.
Growing up in Pilsen, Alan Rodriguez saw his parents working hard in the hospitality industry. His mother and father were employed at a chain restaurant, enduring long hours, inadequate pay, various complicated characters, and even fear. College wasn’t a financial option for Alan, but that didn’t stop him from wanting a career. Right after high school, Alan started working at McCormick Place, where his father had his second job, setting up meeting rooms and cleaning the building. A manager later offered Alan a better-paid position as a porter. “I loved the energy.” Alan saw that a hospitality job could be good and quickly realized he wanted to be in the kitchen.
Even though he enjoyed the new position, Alan had not given up on his dream of a career and started looking into apprenticeship programs. Fortunately, Alan was involved with his union, UNITE HERE Local 1, and learned about the opportunity to apply for a spot in the second cohort of UHCHI’s Culinary Apprenticeship. Alan was thrilled when he learned that UHCHI did not require a U.S. birth certificate and looked forward to the career opportunity before him. “I was excited to learn about the correct terms in the kitchen, nutrition, and the right temperatures for food.”
He smiled, “I was excited because I was going to learn how to play with fire.” Alan’s excitement also came with some apprehension. He felt nervous because it seemed like the other applicants and his future coworkers had years of experience in the kitchen when he had none. But Alan found a supportive community at UHCHI. “My fellow apprentices gave me a lot of support since they had previous culinary experience. They would tell me or show me when I didn’t understand,” said Alan. “Chef Victor felt like my mentor. Any question, he was always there. He would check on me and make sure I did stuff right. He put a lot of time and energy into me. I always had that support.”
UHCHI built Alan’s confidence and career trajectory. Alan was placed with Compass Levy at the United Center for on-the-job training. After just two years, he helps prepare food for both Bulls and Blackhawks players and is slated to become a Cook I next season. He feels proud of being a graduate of the Apprenticeship program and confident in the skills he learned at UHCHI. His coworkers at the United Center recognize his expertise, “People come up to me for help. I’m fortunate enough to have an answer when they ask me questions. It makes me feel confident.” As a graduate of UHCHI’s Culinary Apprenticeship, Alan is now one of the first Culinary Journeyworkers in Illinois and holds five certifications. When reflecting on how UHCHI impacted his future, Alain said, “Where I grew up, sometimes the environment didn’t promote following your dreams. Sometimes young people don’t understand what’s possible until their late 20s. With UHCHI, you realize you could turn this into a career. You have places to go from here. It’s a great opportunity because it will open doors and maybe some folks’ eyes. Added Alan, “UHCHI prepared me well. There’s always something to learn in the kitchen. No matter how much you know, you still learn something.