ROCKFORD (WREX) — We're used to celebrating graduations in June, but Rock Valley College had a particularly special ceremony on Thursday.
Dozens of students in the Workplace Equity Program celebrated their graduation with many leaving the stage with a diploma and a job.
The WEI is a grant program set up by Illinois. Between 2019 and 2020, Rock Valley College got over $2.5 million to educate low-income minority residents in the trades. The skills courses include, CNC machining, CDL licensing, mobile app development, coding, welding and dentistry.
WEI program leader at Rock Valley College Tiana McCall says those industries desperately need the added boost in workers.
"It's kind of one-sided where we have a lot of positions that are open, but not a lot of people trained in the skills to get these positions," McCall said.
The combination of the WEI and workforce shortage provides opportunities for people in the program like Matthew Padron.
Padron served 20 years in prison, and when he got out, he didn't have any workforce experience, skills or a degree to fall back on. Now after completing the program, Padron works with machinery after completing the CNC program.
Padron says this is exactly the opportunity he prayed for throughout his time in prison.
"I kept telling them (my family), when I come home, I want to live," Padron said. "For me, this means life."
RVC has spots for CNC and maintenance tech in their WEI program for this year. However, the college doesn't know if the state will renew the funding next year.