Dr. Norman Ruano Brings Education Back to the Workplace
Story By: Joe Dyton
Dr. Norman Ruano’s work for the Institute for Workforce Education, a division of St. Augustine College, is not just a job; it’s fulfilling a lifelong passion. Dr. Ruano was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala, and lived there until his early teens when he and his family moved to Chicago during the civil war. Influenced by having college professors and activists in his family, Dr. Ruano developed a penchant for education and advocacy on others’ behalf at an early age.
“When I was a kid, my grandmother used to organize protests to help the poor,” Dr. Ruano said. “I saw firsthand her understanding of people’s condition and dedication to do something about it. I always had a sense that we needed to do something to help others.”
Along with activism, Dr. Ruano took his education seriously. He studied social sciences in college. He continued studying the subject, earning a Master Degree and later a Doctorate in Sociology, with Summa Cum Laude honors, from Loyola University Chicago.
Feeling the need to understand life in the private sector, he began his professional career in business sales and management, before joining the City Colleges of Chicago. Here, he managed the workforce operations of Harry S. Truman College and later founded the Workforce Institute, where he served as Vice President. Through his leadership, hundreds of businesses in Illinois and other states in the country received strategic consulting and training, as well as workforce training funding from government agencies. He focused on bringing education to the workplace and on the development of programs to support Latinos in higher education.
Because of his interest in higher education and commitment to promote the progress of Latinos, Dr. Ruano transitioned to St. Augustine College (a Latino college), where he’s worked as Vice President for Workforce Development for almost a decade.
At St. Augustine college, Dr. Ruano’s mission was to create a workplace development program from a private, non-profit college perspective, focusing on serving the Latino community of Chicago and the state of Illinois.
As a result, the Institute for Workforce Education (IWE) was created. This college division is dedicated to helping the Latino community advance in the workforce and classroom in many different ways.
For example, a lot of immigrant and U.S. born Latinos join the workforce right away with a particular skill set. Once technology changes, however, they need to get new training to stay competitive with the rest of the workforce and to get promoted.
IWE fills this void by working with companies and non-profit organizations to secure funding and provide customized training to their most valuable resource, their employees. IWE offers customized training to meet the needs of different industries and management training for people who are employed with larger organizations but need help gaining the skills that will help them move up.
Dr. Ruano and his team have found that the language barrier can be an obstacle for a lot of people who need the training. So while IWE teaches hundreds of courses in English, they also offer them in Spanish, and even some in Polish. The Institute also partners with business associations to develop training programs for its members, with the objective of improving their management, organizational and business generation skills.
Recognizing that green technologies yield a lot of job opportunities, IWE partners with the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA) to provide training programs to Latino contractors. The contractors are taught practices related to green construction and prepare to obtain the required certifications.
“Our intent is to ensure that our Latino companies develop the latest skills with the latest technology and techniques so when they go into the marketplace, they’re able to be competitive and have an upper hand,” Dr. Ruano said.
IWE’s work has garnered the attention of other organizations—including some in Latin America. A group of workforce partners, sponsored by the Chilean Department of Labor, called and brought them to Santiago in order to certify instructors on how to use American-based workforce education models (more skills focused).
IWE has now taken the step of publishing its own workforce training materials. “That is something that is very dear to my heart because it’s not about just doing it once, it’s about repeating it in every corner of this country,” Dr. Ruano said, adding “We make those resources available to other institutions or organizations to help transform people’s lives.”
Dr. Ruano could have continued on a more lucrative career path in medical technology, but all of the money in the world could not buy the satisfaction he gets by helping others succeed trough workforce training and higher education.
“What gives me the greatest satisfaction is that I know the education and training we’re giving our people is making a difference for them, their families, and their community” Dr. Ruano concluded.