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Opinion | Brian Durham: Hospitals need more nurses; Illinois community colleges can help
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Opinion | Brian Durham: Hospitals need more nurses; Illinois community colleges can help

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Many industries are struggling under the weight of the pandemic. A few industries, like health care, have the opposite problem.

Hospitals simply can’t hire trained and qualified health care workers fast enough to meet the demands of the ongoing health crisis. The health care workforce in Illinois is expected to continue to shrink over the next 10 years as baby boomers age and the need for health care across our state grows. Some projections indicate a nursing shortfall of nearly 20,000 by the year 2030. This shortage has only been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The good news is that Career Technical Education (CTE) Programs — including nursing programs — offered by most Illinois community colleges, are here to help bridge the gap by training and educating new frontline health care heroes. In addition to nurses, community colleges also prepare people for other health care positions, including emergency medical technicians, respiratory therapists and surgical technologists, among others.

February is Career and Technical Education Month and there is no better time to highlight the benefits of CTE than right now. These programs prepare people for high-skill, in-demand jobs that further Illinois’ global competitiveness and fill critical needs here at home.

Last year, nearly half of all Illinois community college graduates earned a CTE degree or certificate. These programs offer flexible scheduling, work-based learning and a pathway from education to employment, not only for recent high school graduates, but also for returning adults, veterans, and incumbent workers.

Even without the immediate needs brought on by the pandemic, the nursing field is listed among the top growth career fields through 2029 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Illinois, nursing positions remain the second most posted occupation behind commercial truck drivers, also a program offered through CTE.

Our health care system has never been challenged more in our lifetime, and it needs qualified men and women to ensure capacity can be met now and in the future. The health of our communities depends on meeting that demand, and community colleges are helping provide the necessary training for hospitals and other critical industries every day through CTE programs.

Earning an associate nursing degree at an Illinois community college is the fastest and most affordable and way to start a meaningful career with flexible schedules and financial aid available for many.

Whether it's nursing or another career field, there are over 4,000 different CTE programs across our community college system that put you at the doorstep of high demand, well-paying careers. At a time when so many people are looking to better their lives, career and technical education programs are waiting to help you take the first step towards change.

To find a CTE program, go to iccb.org/cte.

Brian Durham is executive director of the Illinois Community College Board.

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