Illinois Works program aims to increase opportunities for young people to get high-paying union jobs


Metro East — High school seniors and other young people throughout the Metro East area are being recruited for a chance to get high-paying union jobs in the construction industry.

They will be trained for pre-apprenticeship jobs under the Illinois Works program, under the supervision of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and Southwestern Illinois College (SWIC), with the support of union building trades and union building contractors.

The free classes are being formed for this fall and spring 2024. The classes will be held at SWIC campuses. Students who successfully complete the 10-week program will receive 14 college credit hours and the Building Trades Safety Certificate from SWIC, which is an Illinois Community College Board approved program.

While in the program, participants can expect both classroom and hands-on training in the correct operation of hand tools and power tools, construction math, solar installation, blueprint reading, welding, basic construction principles, critical thinking, and career readiness, among other topics.

Participants can earn industry certifications in OSHA Safety, First Aid, Aerial/Scissor Lift, and Forklift Safety.

Hourly financial stipends equaling $11 an hour will be provided to each of those enrolled in the program.

Participants must live in Illinois, be at least 18 years old, have a high school diploma or equivalency, have a driver’s license (or the ability to obtain one), interview satisfactorily with professionals in the construction business and pass a drug test. The classes will be held at sites in East St. Louis and at the Belleville campus of SWIC.

Construction Labor unions and union construction contractors alike are endorsing the classes. They say it is a good way to prepare for careers for students who otherwise would have no interest in attending traditional colleges and universities before becoming construction apprentices.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker  has strongly supported the program. He and the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity recently 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.

“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.”

The Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program was started in 2021.

In 2022, the Office of Illinois Works awarded nearly $12 million to 29 programs in six regions of the state to deliver pre-apprenticeship programs. Together, these programs  served over 1,300 Illinois residents. The 2023 program’s goal is to expand the network of providers by providing up to 20 additional awards and funding up to an additional $10 million.

Kristin Richards, director of  the Commerce and Economic Opportunity Department, said increasing the numbers of jobs for minorities, women, and veterans has always been a goal of the program. “We look forward to assisting pre-apprentices in every corner of Illinois while encouraging participation from historically underrepresented communities,” she has said.

Richards grew up in Belleville  and now lives in Chicago. She previously was director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security, where she led the state’s Covid-19 pandemic response for Illinoisans affected by job loss.

State Sen. Christopher Belt (D- Swansea) praised the Illinois Works training 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 in a statement.

More information about Illinois Works is available from Jim Moore at 618-541-4925 or by email at


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