Illinois expanding pre-apprenticeship program

Illinois Correspondent

Illinois is pouring $13 million into an expansion of the Illinois Works pre-apprenticeship program, including some based in the Metro-east.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) awarded the $13 million to 30 recipients to expand the Illinois Works pre-apprenticeship program, intended to create a qualified talent pipeline of diverse candidates in construction and the building trades. This is the second year for the program, which will expand access across the state and increase the number of pre-apprentices to 1,400, a 40 percent increase from the first year.

Pritzker said the program keeps Illinois’ best assets – its workers – at the forefront of economic progress.

“The Illinois Works program aims to break barriers down for more women and people of color to take advantage of the thousands of jobs created by our state’s nation-leading infrastructure investments, while simultaneously creating a sustainable pipeline of qualified workers for an industry that is booming,” Pritzker said. “These are the types of strategic investments that ensure we have a workforce ready to take the jobs available right now in fields that offer growth for the future.”

In addition to more money the DCEO is expanding its network of providers to recruit and screen workers and provide skills training.

Among the supporters of the program is Illinois state Sen. Christopher Belt (D-Swansea), whose district includes Southwestern Illinois College, a participant in the Illinois Works pre-apprenticeship program.

“By providing people with support and training, we’re opening the door for Illinoisans to secure stable, good-paying careers in a high-demand industry,” Belt said.

Illinois state Sen. Doris Turner (D-Springfield) pointed out that growing diversity in the building trades is not just a Chicago issue.

“We are charging forward like never before with three programs between Decatur and Springfield,” she said. “I look forward to seeing the graduates of these programs working on projects across our region for decades to come.”

The program launched in 2021 with the stated goal of increasing diversity and access to apprenticeship programs. The comprehensive pre-apprenticeship programs help participants gain admission to full apprenticeship programs and eventual long-term employment, especially in the construction trades. Before the program began, approximately 28 percent of Illinois apprentices were people of color such as Black, Latino, Asian or Native American workers. Only five percent were women.

Participants attend tuition-free and receive a stipend, as well as other supportive, barrier reduction services to help them enter the construction industry. Pre-apprentices who complete the program also receive industry-aligned certifications to prepare them for a registered apprenticeship program in the trades.

“Apprenticeships lead to stable, good-paying careers and the Illinois Works program increases access to this critical pathway for historically underserved communities,” said Kristin Richards, acting director of DCEO.

The first program year concluded in December 2022 with nearly $10 million in funding to organizations serving more than 1,000 participants across the state. Of those, 85 percent were people of color, and 21 percent were women.

The program comes at a time when fewer young people are interested in pursuing the trades. The application rate for young people seeking technical jobs like plumbing, building and electrical work dropped by 49 percent from 2020 to 2022, according to NPR Illinois. Companies posting for these jobs saw an average of 10 applications per position in 2020, but five per position in 2022.

Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton said the program provided a “life-enhancing” chance for people from diverse backgrounds and regions.

“Opportunities represent growth, the path to becoming your best self, and the ability to contribute to one’s family and community,” said Stratton.

Among the local programs receiving grants from Illinois Works this year are: Southwestern Illinois College, $295,071; Teens Against Killing Everywhere in East St. Louis, $400,000; Richland Community College in Decatur, $450,000; Macon County in Decatur, $450,000; Associated Builders and Contractors in Urbana, $239,802; and Illinois Foundation of Skills in Pekin, Morton and Washington, $600,000, as well as many others in Chicago, the Quad Cities and other areas of Illinois. SWIC was part of the program’s launch in 2022.


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