DuPage board member talks jobs to NAACP

DuPage County board member Tonia Khouri talked about careers Wednesday during the monthly meeting of the DuPage Chapter of the NAACP. Khouri, a Republican, represents District 5, chairs the Economic Development Committee and is running for re-election in November.

“I’m very passionate about jobs,” she told 25 of the group’s members on the campus of Benedictine University in Lisle. “Jobs change lives.”

Khouri brought with her representatives from workNet DuPage; the county Workforce Development Division; Choose DuPage, an economic development alliance; and Career Connect, a pilot program of the Metro West Workforce Collaborative.

The national unemployment rate is 5.9 percent — a marked improvement over a few years ago.

DuPage County’s unemployment rate has fallen dramatically in the last year, from 8.1 percent to between 5 and 5.5 percent, depending on which source is cited.

While no statistics were available for DuPage’s African-American community, the national rate holds steady at 11 percent.

DuPage Chapter President Mario Lambert said that help is available for those who need it.

“The resources are there,” he said, noting that his chapter has not concentrated on getting the message out. “That’s something we need to fix … we have to make sure this area is the best it can be.”

One of those resources is Sue Clark, director of workNet DuPage.

She told the group that her office concentrates its efforts on three groups of low-income residents: youth, adult and dislocated workers — mainly people who have lost jobs for one reason or another.

Clark said grant money is available for training job-seekers, about $4 million, which could be used for a variety of different approaches to gaining employment, including job counseling, occupational training, scholarships or manufacturing internships.

She stressed that workNet DuPage focuses on jobs paying at least $15 an hour, sometimes pays for school, and even works with promising job seekers if they lack a high school diploma but are working on their GED.

“Our main focus is to get people jobs,” Clark said.

She said the best way to learn more about the group is to go to its website, www.worknetdupage.com.

Nicholas Zito, of Choose DuPage, told the group about Rev3, a business “incubator” housed on the campus of Northern Illinois University’s Naperville campus.

The idea is to provide a place for budding entrepreneurs to work on product ideas they haven’t yet been able to take to market. Rev3 provides office space, access to computers and the Internet, and mentors from various companies.

Zito said the group’s target demographic will be people who have other jobs and are developing projects in their spare time.

He said there were “a mix of products … about a 50/50 split between manufacturing and technology.”

Khouri stressed the unique nature of Rev3.

“You can actually build a product before you take it to market,” she said.

Joe Dutra, coordinator of Career Connect, told the group that, at one time, the nation’s manufacturing sector was thought to be on the decline.

“That’s not the case anymore,” he said, while noting that DuPage County will need to fill about 9,000 manufacturing positions in the coming decade. “No one is being trained to replace those people.”

Career Connect is associated with the James Adams Resource Corporation and the Alliance for Illinois Manufacturing.

The majority of the program’s jobs are either welding or machine operators, and the hourly rate is between $12 and $16 per hour. The training class has an open enrollment, with students not graduating until they are completely trained for a manufacturing position.

So far, the program also trained six women for manufacturing positions.

Lambert asked about the prospects for a person with a nonviolent criminal record.

Dutra said the program might “take an individual who had a violent or non-violent” record, depending on how long ago the offense had taken place.

One member of the group, Paul Scott, was retired and none of the programs would apply to him, but noted that the knowledge would be valuable to him as an NAACP member.

“It’s pretty impressive,” he said of the resources available.

This article was originally published on the Naperville Sun.

NewsMonica Kucera