A new career training program at Triton College will give Forest Park community members the opportunity to earn a professional certificate from the college at no cost to them, thanks to a $1 million grant the college received a few months ago that’s designed to boost the number of minorities who are represented in high-demand fields. 

The free certificate program will last for nine months and offer between 12 and 18 credit hours in a variety of areas, including carpentry, plumbing, welding, medical billing and automotive engine repair. Most of the programs will take place during the evening to accommodate adult learners. 

The program is open to anyone with at least a high school diploma, or the equivalent, living in Bellwood, Broadview, Forest Park, Hillside, Maywood, Oak Park, Rosemont and Stone Park. 

Audrey Jonas, Triton’s director of public affairs and community relations, said during a Nov. 25 regular meeting of the Maywood Board of Trustees that the Workforce Equity Initiative Grant was made possible through the Illinois Community College Board and sponsored by the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus. 

The caucus was responsible for appropriating a total of $18.7 million in fiscal year 2020 for the equity grants. All 48 community colleges in Illinois were encouraged to apply. The grant is designed to increase the numbers of minorities, particularly African Americans, in “in-demand, well-paying jobs in a variety of fields,” Jonas said. 

According to the Illinois Community College Underrepresented Report, which evaluates the degree of access to educational opportunities and diversity among community colleges in the state, African Americans accounted for only 12 percent of Career and Technical Education (CTE) program graduates in the state in fiscal year 2017. Minorities, in general, accounted for 34 percent of CTE program graduates that fiscal year. 

“This is not an associate degree, but job training,” Jonas said. “Our goal is to close the skills gap in communities of need in the local workforce.” 

The Black Caucus does have one major requirement for community colleges that take the equity grant money — at least 60 percent of the program participants have to be African American.

“They want to make sure that this job training goes toward African Americans in our community district,” Jonas said. 

The program starts Jan. 21, 2020, she said, adding that the “idea is to have students graduated by the end of the year in 2020.” There are roughly 160 seats that will be available in the program, Jonas said. 

Jamila Thomas, a Maywood native who is the founder of Community Support Alliance, a Hillside-based nonprofit that’s focused on nonprofit development, said that she agreed to host an informational meeting at her offices for the grant program because she wants to ensure that as many people in her hometown take advantage of the opportunity. 

“Anything I can do to help and give back to the community I came from, that’s what I will do,” Thomas said. 

The informational session will take place at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Dec. 9, at 4415 Harrison St. (suite 303) in Hillside.