ChalleNGe Academy initiative gives cadets job skills
1 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lincoln’s ChalleNGe Academy cadets work together during a GAF Roofing Academy class to learn basic roofing skills in Rantoul, Illinois. The Academy is administered by the Illinois National Guard. (Photo Credit: Michael Camacho, Lincoln ChalleNGe Academy) VIEW ORIGINAL
ChalleNGe Academy initiative gives cadets job skills
2 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – (Photo Credit: Michael Camacho, Lincoln ChalleNGe Academy) VIEW ORIGINAL
ChalleNGe Academy initiative gives cadets job skills
3 / 3 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Lincoln’s ChalleNGe Academy cadets work together during a GAF Roofing Academy class to learn basic roofing skills in Rantoul, Illinois. The Academy is administered by the Illinois National Guard. (Photo Credit: Michael Camacho, Lincoln ChalleNGe Academy) VIEW ORIGINAL

RANTOUL, Ill. – Lincoln's ChalleNGe Academy is reaching beyond academics and offering its cadets vocational job skills and certifications that can help put them on the path to a bright future.

"For nearly 30 years, LCA has helped develop young men and women to be a better version of themselves with a focus on education and discipline," said LCA Director Michael Haerr of Eureka. "And while we stay true to that, LCA is a life-skills program, not just a place to get a GED. If we can provide the skills and training they need to find employment and future careers, we can make a greater impact on who they can become."

Candy Arnold, LCA's placement department supervisor, said the workforce initiative provides cadets with training that helps them find employment and exposes them to different careers. The academy has been working with community partners such as Parkland College and GAF Roofing Academy to train and certify cadets in food handling, forklift operating, roofing and welding.

The LCA program is administered by the Illinois National Guard for Illinois youth ages 16-18 who have dropped out of high school. It begins with a five-month residential life-skills program in a quasi-military environment on the academy's campus on the former Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul. A year-long mentoring program follows the residential phase.

This past week, five cadets with LCA's Class 56-21 attended the last of five Introduction to Welding classes at Parkland's Applied Technology Center in Champaign. Of the approximately 90 cadets graduating from the academy's residential phase Oct. 30, 20 will be starting employment in their communities using the tools and skills learned during their time as cadets in the academy.

Arnold said LCA plans to provide training for prospective certified nursing assistants; more advanced thermo-compressive welding; heating, ventilation and air conditioning; vehicle operation and more.

"We are continuing to expand what we offer. This gives cadets more ways to prosper once they complete the program," said Arnold. "The academy is a stepping-stone. We want to do everything we can to get them ready for their futures and help them find their career paths."

Arnold's department helps cadets in the residential program find jobs, develop life plans, and explore career and secondary education paths. The department also teaches financial literacy and interview skills and helps cadets develop resumes. Placement also tracks the education and career achievement of graduates during the one-year post-residential program.

"Even within the last few classes since the workforce initiative officially started, we have seen past cadets finding employment in the different trades and skilled labor," Arnold said. "Being able to provide job skills training, both soft and hands-on, makes our cadets better suited for the workforce."

Arnold said the GAF roofing class is one of the most popular vocational electives. Right now, roofers typically earn a starting wage of more than $19 per hour.

"GAF Roofing Academy has been amazing to work with," said Arnold. "Most of it is all hands-on, and the cadets get to see what they can accomplish. They learn so much about roofing and receive a certification through GAF that makes them job-ready for a roofing company. We have several cadets who are looking into related fields and careers after attending the roofing training."

While the academy still helps its cadets acquire a GED, it is also providing a path back to high school for several cadets by helping them recover high school credits lost when they dropped out. Seven cadets recovered enough credits to return to high school this month. One cadet recovered enough credits to earn her high school diploma from Urbana's Regional Board of Education District 7.

"We are helping our cadets find their inner strength and a path to success that works for them," Haerr said. "That might be the additional opportunities offered by a GED, it might be earning a high school diploma or it might be learning some valuable vocational job skills. This program is all about helping these young men and women find a path that works for them and helping them stay on that path. We believe in second chances."

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