QUINCY -- Looking to help close the gap in vacancies in court reporters in the region, a class is being planned to offer an introduction to the role of court reporters and stenotype machines.
Court reporter Kim Cottrell is president-elect of the Illinois Court Reporters Association is offering the First Steps class, which will meet one night a week for three weeks.
Cottrell said the class will provide an introduction to the machine, as well as explain what court reporters do.
"It gives them a chance to put their hands on a steno machine," she said. "We will have machines available for one or two of the classes for them to get a basic understanding of the keyboard and what certain strokes mean.
"It's kind of like chording on a piano, because you don't hit one thing at a time. You hit multiple keystrokes at a time."
Tammy Bumgarner, director of Court Reporting Services in Springfield, said with the average age of official court reporters being 52 and one-third of current court reporters eligible for retirement, there will be a need for more than 400 employees in the next 10 to 15 years.
"We need to get creative to figure out how we can get more people to consider this profession," Bumgarner said. "One of those things that we're doing is offering a free introduction to court reporting class called First Steps, which will be taught by our court reporters
Cottrell said though one position was recently filled in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, which includes Adams County, several remain.
She has been a court reporter in Adams County since late 2016.
Some hearings are electronically recorded to be transcribed for later use, but Cottrell said those have limitations.
"They are littered with indiscernibles or inaudibles because someone might cough, there could be someone slamming a door, a defendant could be getting rowdy or loud by the elevator, which happens frequently,"she said. "If that kind of thing is going on while there is a recording, no one is going to know that that's not going to not able to be transcribed."
A court reporter in the courtroom could ask that a statement be repeated.
The National Court Reporters Association also offers an introductory course.
"It's a pretty comprehensive six-week program to help you decide whether or not court reporting is the right thing for you before you invest all the time and money that it is going to take to become a court reporter," Cottrell said. "That way we hope to increase the graduation rate and decrease the dropout rate because court reporting is really tough."
Training programs -- both site-based and online -- can be completed in two and a half to four and a half years. Cottrell said it took her five years to complete her training in the 1990s.
"Once learn your theory and once you learn all of the academics, it's just speed building," Cottrell said. "It really depends on how much you practice and how dedicated you are."
But even when certified, court reporters will work to hone their skills. Cottrell tries to practice 15 minutes each day.
Court reporters starting salary in the state can range from $41,000 to $51,000 per year and also additional income available for preparing transcripts.
A date is not set for the First Steps class, but Cottrell said there are already four people interested in taking it. Anyone interested in taking the class can contact her at email@example.com.