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Mission at Work: The Lake County Eco-System

Partnerships within a community

By Gina Schuyler; Assistant Principal for Student Services/EFE 080, Lake County Tech Campus and Education for Employment- Lake County, IL

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Supporting partnerships is a primary focus of the re-authorization of the Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins). Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century (Perkins V) has a focus of partnerships within the community. The Act encourages Career and Technical Schools to work closely with their local workforce boards, business and industry and local community colleges. Even though this Act was recently re-authorized, this supportive partnership already exists in Lake County, IL. Lake County has the potential to be the model for the new vision of this re-authorization.

Ensuring adequate talent development and retention within a community is a persistent issue that can be addressed through the creation of industry, private, and educational organization partnerships. Within Lake County, Illinois; Lake County Workforce Development, the College of Lake County, the Lake County Tech Campus, and Lake County Partners have formed the Lake County Eco-System. This “groundbreaking partnership…is one of the many ways in which young talent and local companies are connecting in Lake County.”1

Each of the partners is shown in the graphic below.









Figure 1: Eco-System Partners

The Formation of the Eco-System

Prior to the formation of the Eco-System, as Lake County Workforce Development collaborated with the College of Lake County (CLC), and Lake County Partners worked with CLC’s departments and Career & Placement Center. Through these efforts, similar themes and areas of focus began to emerge. Everyone found themselves at the same tables with similar agendas and desires to help, and determined that grouping momentum allows for greater outcomes for the stakeholders. The partnership of these three entities forms a “solution” to companies’ stated obstacles related to workforce development and/or retainment.

In 2017, the Eco-System grew with involvement of the Lake County Tech Campus, Illinois’ largest Career and Technical School that is tied into the Lake County Vocational System. The Eco-System also has strong ties to key stakeholders, including the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC), Lake Forest College, and Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science; and continues outreach for participation to four-year, post-secondary institutions within Illinois.

Today, the mission and focus of the Eco-System is to build a talent pipeline, thus keeping companies in Lake County and attracting more companies to Lake County. From an educational standpoint, the Eco-System has the following key focus areas:

  • Promote Awareness of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and Key Industries
  • Increase CTE Enrollments
  • Build Out Offerings for Students Still in Class
  • Help Graduates Move Forward – College/Careers

Collaboration and Coordination

Educators often ask: “Where are the companies? How can we work with them? Why aren’t they reaching out to us to donate equipment or services?” Conversely, from industry we hear: “The schools need offer career readiness training. We need well-trained individuals with specific in-demand skills.”

The Eco-System began to raise awareness within the community on what is already being done in Lake County, how it can be promoted and expanded, and what was being done collectively and strategically to grow the talent economy in our region. The Eco-System started small, utilizing existing resources, but now with the partnership of the Tech Campus and the Vocational System, career pipeline awareness begins much earlier within the schools.

Not only do the members of the Eco-System work well together and remain in constant communication, they are also on the same network. Together they use the Salesforce platform, enabling them to efficiently track contacts and maintain important touch-points and data elements from across the Eco-System (e.g., referrals, information gathered at outreach meetings, career and job fair outcomes). Eco-System partners work together to keep this information current, allowing the group to move forward with a unified and successful strategy related to talent coming out of high schools.

Eco-System Activities

Career Expos

Unlike “job fairs”, “career expos” focus on allowing companies show students what they will be working with if they are employed by the company, and the industry in general; providing videos and active demonstrations of their products. Students gain an understanding of what they’ll be doing and how it relates to what they already are learning. Training providers and instructors also attend these expos, as there may be instances where students will be missing a single class needed to obtain a certification that an organization requires of entry level candidates.

Students prepare for these expos weeks in advance, including working on building their resumes, and focusing on the hard and soft skills needed for their desired career area. Instructors offer students information on how to dress for success, how to speak about their experiences within their Career and Technical programs, and how to present their own elevator pitch.

During the expos, resumes are collected and on-site interviews conducted; or company representatives may chose to schedule times to come back and interview a select group of students. These expos also bring the initial collaboration with companies for speaking engagements within classrooms; and, many times site visits are coordinated with companies as a result of the expos.

Participation in the expos has helped some sophomores and juniors determine if their program is the best fit, and to recognize if there is a career in their specific industry they’ll continue to pursue. Other students have decided to change their programs for the final year after exposure to these added industry details. For those students that realize “this is the career for them,” training providers are available at the expos to help them determine what additional certification would be best to pursue in their last year of schooling or what additional courses they may need. These expos also provide students the opportunity to meet with training providers outside of their current school setting who may offer alternate or advanced training offerings, and to discuss opportunities for tuition reimbursement.

The Eco-System partners each play a key role in the success of each career expo. Lake County Workforce Development has a table at each expo and plays an integral part in offering one-stop shopping for students and companies. Lake County Workforce Development uses grant funds to offset costs when a company hires an individual who needs further training, but otherwise meets the company’s requirements for the occupational role. The College of Lake County participates through their career pathway programs, where dual-credit agreements exist between the campuses for most programs, and students enrolled at Lake County Tech Campus are also earning a dual transcript with the College of Lake County. The Eco-System also supports expos at other Lake County High Schools; however, these offer students only limited preparation for the event, and significantly less exposure to industry-identified equipment. Additionally, unlike at Tech Campus, the students coming to the expos are not all embedded within CTE programs. Expos conducted with these schools are more about creating awareness of career options, and offering opportunities to begin engaging in conversation with parents and counselors about joining CTE programs like those at Lake County Tech Campus.

Two dedicated career expos were held in 2017 at the Lake County Tech Campus, and an additional two expos were held at interested schools in Waukegan and Lake Villa, plus seven more planned in 2017. In 2018, six career expos were held at the Lake County Tech Campus, with additional expos being held at Antioch, Lake Forest, Grant Community, and Waukegan. In addition to the success of the expos themselves, these events have generated an increased interest in career-focused events and CTE among high school students. A primary goal of the career expos is to continuously incorporate new engagements, thus helping create opportunities for internships, apprenticeships, site visits, and high school programs with local companies in the key industries. Strategically connecting companies with Lake County Workforce Development allows for the conversation of up-training needs to existing employees of the participating companies in most career pathways. This allows for entry level openings in which the Tech Campus students gain internships. Leveraged workforce dollars are utilized for specialized training from the community college to provide additional specialized training for students. In essence students can be hired directly out of the Tech Campus and then additionally trained on-site with little to no cost to the company.

Other Activities

The Eco-System continues to look at the needs of Lake County and encourage companies to look to Lake County as a viable option. The Eco-System will participate in upcoming activities such as Tour of Tech Open House and middle school awareness nights. Having both the College of Lake County and local manufactures play a role in the make and take night has bolstered the focus on collaboration and commitment to growing Lake County of the Eco-System. Conversations are underway allowing businesses to offer their expertise in the area of machine tooling. The Eco-System is looking at create opportunities such as having students in welding, automotive, and other programs take deep dives into learning about machine tooling and the opportunities these occupations offer. Our goal is to highlight transferable skills and assist in identifying career pathways. Our efforts include creating (or bringing back) career programs focused on the skills and competencies that industry is desperately in need of (e.g., machine tools, CNC, IT certifications). Further, the Eco-System partners are working to make certifications a part of the high school curriculum so college curricula can focus on advanced skills; and encouraging companies to help pay for training to allow students to get started on their careers after graduation.

To-date Eco-System partners worked collectively to gather modern manufacturing companies and the senior leadership at North Chicago Community High School to design a day-long traveling workshop focused on the promising careers available to students in the manufacturing industry.1 The Eco-System group has presented at state conferences and local funders’ meetings, advisory groups, and various entity boards within Lake County and the surrounding areas. Additional activities for the Eco-System include upgrading the medical assisting/nursing training facilities at the Lake County Tech Campus to include state-of-the-art equipment, identifying activity sponsors and donors, and adding new partners to the Eco-System (e.g., Northwestern, University of Illinois at Chicago, Northern Illinois University, and University of Illinois –Champaign/Urbana).

Eco-System Impact

The Eco-System has a number of documented outcomes demonstrating the impact of its programming and outreach.

  Year 1 Year 2
Direct Relationships with Local Companies  200+ 1,000+
Companies Have/Want Support in Creating Internship Programs 68% 80%
Student Participation  30% 79%
Students Placed in Internships/Job Shadows 258 1,000
Students Hired into Permanent Positions (includes apprenticeship) 100+ 100+
Students Enrolled at Lake County Tech Campus Fall 2017: 1,555  Fall 2018: 1,700
Career Expos  2 6
Business Partner Engagement 95 300+

Table 1: Overview of Impact and Outcome Measures

By showcasing our talent in Lake County and highlighting success stories, we can do more to strengthen the Eco-System and its impact on our youth and our communities. The Eco-System partners will continue to listen to all stakeholders and work collectively to do what is best for all.

Acknowledgement of Eco-System Partners

  • Lake County Partners staff and President (Kevin Considine)
  • Lake County Work Force staff and Director (Jennifer Serino)
  • College of Lake County staff and Assistant Vice President of Educational Affairs (Ali O-Brien)
  • Lake County Tech Campus staff and Assistant Principal / Education for Employment Lake County (Gina Schuyler)


  1. Community Contributor. North Chicago high school faculty explores Lake County’s thriving manufacturing industry. Chicago Tribune. September 8, 2018. Available at:

Suggested Citation: Schyler, G. Mission at Work: The Lake County Eco-System – partnerships within a community. Journal of Interprofessional Workforce Research and Development. Volume 2:Issue 1, 2019.