INTREN CEO Kelly Tomblin speaks as a guest lecturer at the National Latino Education Institute. Tomblin is slated as the keynote speaker for the institute's 47th Annual Dinner and Silent Auction on June 11.

Institute Rolls Out Accredited Programs Toward High-Paying, In-Demand Jobs

Published May 10, 2019

Economic independence for its students and community lies at the crux of the mission of the National Latino Education Institute, said Executive Director Elba Aranda-Suh. Its method? "Create a pipeline to the trades world" to enable great careers for workers while supplying a desperately needed workforce to rapidly growing industries, she said.

"This is a very viable and fruitful career," she said. "There are really great jobs that don't require a four-year degree, but training in between."

National Latino Education Institute practice handsProsthetic hands and calves in a clinical training classroom await National Latino Education Institute medical assistant students.The institute, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, provides a series of education tracks and services to train students in skills for work in industries like health care, construction and energy. Its full accreditation lets students earn transferable credits at the college level while being assured of high-quality education. "This is unique for a grass roots-based organization," Aranda-Suh said.

Trades Training

The institute's programs establish cohort groups of students who progress through specific tracks related to their trade industry. For example, the new, nine-week-long Construct program provides "solid foundation for entry into the construction fields," Aranda-Suh said. It's open to applicants 18 and older, and it boasts a job placement rate of over 90 percent.

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Training for work in the energy industry is another key area at the institute, Aranda-Suh said, including programs like the NLEI Energia Project, which prepares students for work in clean energy industries like solar and wind.

Health care training is a cornerstone for the institute, with programs like clinical lab skills and medical assistant training leading toward Certified Medical Assistant designations, Aranda-Suh said.

All programs have changed with the times throughout the school's long history of education. For example, information and computer technology are now integrated into every area of study. The institute also continues to offer training in office skills and office suite software: a "staple," Aranda-Suh said.

Partnerships with Business

"Field experience is in all our programs," Aranda-Suh said, with partner companies providing direct, on-site training and experience in live workplace environments. All classes take place at the institute's campus: a building and grounds in the Central Manufacturing District where South Damen Avenue meets West Pershing Road at 2011 W. Pershing Road.

Collaboration with businesses is a critical part of the institute's success, both in terms of placing graduates in jobs and creating programs for skills in high demand, Aranda-Suh said. "Part of the success is having those partners." More than 300 companies work with the institute on these programs, according to the institute's website.

National Latino Education Institute Construct poster 2019The National Latino Education Institute's Construct program is one of several that tie training into job placement.This collaboration ties directly into companies' bottom-line interests: "They need a workforce," Aranda-Suh said. "We are seeing more demand than anyone anticipated. Every sector has huge demand and huge opportunity."

A History of Education, Advocacy and Service

The National Latino Education Institute began in 1972 as the Spanish Coalition for Jobs: an advocacy organization that organized and litigated on behalf of victimized workers, winning affirmative action and fair funding agreements with Chicago corporations and civic institutions. "It was a true grassroots coalition," Aranda-Suh said.

As it continued to advocate for fairness in employment, the group started to also offer job services and training, with a focus on "middle-skill jobs" like clerical and office work, Aranda-Suh said.

Some major benchmarks for the organization include the acquisition of its Pershing Road campus in 1984 and a string of accreditations and qualifications through the 1990s and 2000s. These include national accreditation as a business school in 1994, the 2004 accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) for the Bilingual Medical Assistant training program, and the school's 2006 recognition as an Honor Roll Institution by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and School (ACICS).

In 2008, the organization officially changed its name to the National Latino Education Institute to reflect the community it serves and the educational opportunities it provides, according to the institute website.

Services for All Comers

Aranda-Suh said that the institute's "Latino" moniker is a part of its heritage and recognition of its audience, however, the school serves all comers across all areas. "Our doors are open to everyone," she said.

This includes members of the general public: The institute has an open-door, walk-in policy to help job seekers get free job placement assistance and receive services like career mapping, skills assessment and job coaching. The school has also regularly held job fairs for local employment seekers, as well as hosted important community meetings, such as the upcoming CMAP Neighborhood Plan Workshop on Wednesday, May 15.

On Tuesday, June 11, the institute hosts its 47th Annual Dinner & Silent Auction, a gala and benefit at the Union League Club in downtown Chicago. INTREN CEO Kelly Tomblin, a noted leader in the energy industry and occasional guest lecturer at the institute, is pegged as the keynote speaker.

Trade work has been unfairly denigrated, Aranda-Suh said: "There's been a stigma around trade careers." However, the types of employment supported by the institute's education programs lead to "true and sustainable opportunity."

"You can raise a family on these wages," she said. "That's what we're about." 

National Latino Education Institute classroom hallway
The National Latino Education Institute's Pershing Road campus includes classrooms, student areas and a library. 

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