Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation Collaborates with Illinois College to Research and Address Workforce Needs

Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation Collaborates with Illinois College to Research and Address Workforce Needs Main Photo

2 Jul 2021


Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation (JREDC), building on its commitment to workforce development, forged a novel partnership with Illinois College to research and develop innovative and effective ways to help bring in the necessary workforce for the companies already in the Jacksonville area. 

Dr. John Drea, Professor of Business Administration at Illinois College and mentor for the project, praised JREDC’s initiative. “JREDC in general — and Kristin Jamison in particular — had a great idea. I'd originally come to Kristin with another idea, but the final idea for the project came out of a discussion between us. I'm not aware of other colleges doing this — certainly not during a pandemic where face-to-face meetings were impossible. I also appreciated how professional Kristin was. For each meeting with the students, she was on-time and prepared: she treated them like professionals, not students, and they responded.”

For the project, the students met with Nestle USA, Bound to Stay Bound Books, and Reynolds Consumer Products to discuss their needs for entry-level positions. When investigating specialized labor needs, in addition to the three companies just mentioned, the students spoke to ILMO and CCK Automations.The students collected detailed data about each company’s needs and developed specific solutions. Suggested solutions ranged from using the correct social media platform to target the desired labor pool for specific job openings, to subsidizing training courses at Lincoln Land Community College to create a skilled labor pool to hire from instead of investing in expensive individual training post-hire. 

“One of the parts of this process that I particularly enjoyed was listening to the students as they applied the problem-solving skills acquired over four years at Illinois College,” Drea said. "They would take an issue such as a lack of applicants for entry-level positions, and determine:

  • What type of person would be an ideal fit?
  • Where are companies searching?
  • Do the search locations match with the profile of the ideal candidate?
  • If not, how would we reach these candidates at a lower cost per contact?”

“Projects like this are a great bridge between a college education, the surrounding community, and life after college,” Drea said. “While many of our students are engaged with social organizations within the Jacksonville community, working with the JREDC was a great way for students to engage with local manufacturers and for students to ‘peel back the curtain’ to see how successful local businesses operate.”

“I think the survey and analysis reminded us and reinforced the fact that Illinois College can help local businesses and help us find real solutions,” said Andy Smith, Operations Manager, Bound to Stay Bound Books.

Bound to Stay Bound Books, is a third generation family-owned business and celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2020. Their mission is to provide the best juvenile books, media products, and related services to the libraries of North America.

“I think Illinois College did a very nice job of identifying that there may not be an easy solution or it’s not about simply offering classes at the high school to teach certain skills,” Smith said. “The idea of doing more at the high school level — including having a representative at the school and actually offering tours and/or job shadowing — is a great idea. The answer is also about finding creative ways to help the companies. The correct use of social media and using the correct sites is a way for companies and potential employees to connect.”

Amy Quigg, Human Resource Manager, Reynolds Consumer Products, echoed the usefulness of the social media findings. “One of the big takeaways is that we are not utilizing social media to the extent we could be, and that we are not necessarily using the correct social media. The students supplied us with a breakdown of what social media platforms target specific candidate pools which will be data we take back to our marketing team to help justify a new direction for advertising.” 

The project demonstrated how merely opening communication channels between Illinois College students and potential employers developed into a heightened and reimagined perspective of the available labor pool.

Quigg elaborated on how the process panned out for Reynolds. “In the original interview process with the students, they focused questions around primary skills Reynolds looks for in an applicant as well as how we search for qualified applicants. With this information, they suggested targeting senior-level high school students and Illinois College students. When working with the students, they recommended a more flexible schedule to accommodate their school or other commitments, such as summer school.” 

“We took the recommendations and put a posting at the IC Career Center and asked for the days and times they would like to work,” Quigg said. “Once we received the list, we created schedules that met the students’ requests, but also covered an entire shift once you combined two students’ schedules, if for example, they were each only able to work a six-hour shift. Some students only wanted to work one or two days a week, but preferred to work the entire 12-hour shift. We scheduled them to cover predicted production needs.”

“We would be happy to hire an Illinois College graduate at Bound to Stay Bound because they are ready for the workforce,” Smith said. “They know how to continue to learn and think critically in the workplace. We also hire students in the summer. A few temporary positions work well for students looking for ‘summer work.’”

Drea echoed these sentiments. “One of the positives from the project was a connection between two local manufacturers who needed additional staffing to cover vacations and Illinois College students wanting to help pay for their educations. I understand that several have been hired into good-paying summer jobs, which helps all parties involved.”

“One of the unseen benefits of participating in a capstone project is all the new connections you have once it is complete,” Quigg said. “I have kept in touch with Dr. Drea to give him feedback and he has introduced me to other IC employees who want to help fill the needs of our business. Additionally, the students who are now working for us have already asked if they can continue to work when school starts. It is my hope that once school starts and other students hear about the opportunities at Reynolds, they will want to join our team as well.”

“I thank the JREDC and Illinois College for addressing this important question in our community,” said Smith. “I think having the personal interviews with representatives from each company was helpful, instead of a survey emailed out to people. Very well done by the JREDC, Illinois College, Dr. Drea, and students.” 

Many thanks to the Illinois College students who conducted this research and analysis: Jaden Craigmiles, Alexandra Pyle, Keigo Urata, Austin Crawford, Felicitas Mojica-Chavez, and Ariana White.

Jacksonville Regional Economic Development Corporation is Eager to Assist

See how JREDC can further help with your workforce needs. JREDC is your time-saving connection to resources to accelerate your project by providing the facts and figures businesses need: statistical data, general community data, topic-specific information, and comparative data. Email JREDC or phone 217.479.4627 for specific information on available buildings and sites, financing and incentives, labor market information, tax information, demographics, traffic counts, retail sales data, economic indicators and trends, and zoning information.

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