Job training, support for Illinois workforce top Pritzker’s agenda

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By ELIZABETH DONALD
Illinois Correspondent

Economic improvements were at the core of Gov. JB Pritzker’s State of the State address in February, with more attention paid to job training and support of the Illinois work force. And local Labor-friendly representatives cheered his proposals.

Pritzker gave his address and delivered his proposed budget, which includes $25 million for Illinois Works to advance diversity in trades hiring; $10 million for high school vocational training; $1 million for data center operator training; and $20 million in grants to recruit, train and upskill workers for job openings.

“And we’re going to need every one of those skilled workers and many more, because as of today, we have more than 81,000 more job openings in Illinois than we have skilled workers to fill them,” Pritzker said. “And our economy and industries are continuing to grow.”

Pritzker pointed out that capital investment in Illinois through EDGE agreements has tripled since before the pandemic up to $1 billion in 2022, with a 60-percent increase in jobs.

Other proposals of interest to Labor included:

  • Smart Start Illinois, which would allow access to preschool for every three- and four-year-old in the state through the Early Childhood Block Grant program.
  • Early Childhood ACE Scholarship program to train thousands more early childhood educators.
  • Workforce Compensation Contracts for more stable funding for child care workers, including subsidizing child care for unemployed workers hunting for a job. “It’s nearly impossible to interview with an employer if you’re simultaneously the 24/7 primary caregiver for your family,” Pritzker said. The program will also help providers expand into “child care deserts” where little or no child care is available near home or work.
  • More funding for higher education grants that supplement federal Pell grants so that every student at or below the median income in Illinois can go to community college tuition-free, including people in healthcare, information technology, construction management, manufacturing and other traditional union trades.

WIN FOR WORKING FAMILIES
Tim Drea, president of the Illinois AFL-CIO, said the proposed budget is a win for working families.

“It is a sound and fiscally responsible budget that meets the needs of working families and prepares our workforce for an ever-changing economy,” Drea said. “There are commitments to fully fund our infrastructure, pay down the state’s pension liabilities and significant investments to our early childhood education, apprenticeship programs and our health and human service workforce.”

Drea said he was looking forward to working with Pritzker, and called on the legislature to “pass a responsible budget that addresses the needs of working people.”

LAUDED BY COLLEAGUES AND ALLIES
Pritzker’s priorities were lauded by colleagues and allies.

“It is paramount that we prioritize hardworking families and continue to make fiscally responsible decisions that put our state in a better position for generations to come,” said Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch. “This proposal by Governor Pritzker proves that Democrats are united in those goals. This budget address is a great starting point for our legislative negotiations, and I look forward to building on our recent success.”

State Rep. Jay Hoffman (D-Swansea) said it was critical to continue the positive momentum of recent years. “I hear every day from local residents on the challenges facing their lives, and it’s my priority to make sure the budget we craft reflects our local concerns,” he said. “We must continue to be good stewards with our state finances, and I look forward to productive conversations with stakeholders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle as we develop a spending plan for the year ahead.”

State Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) said it was good news for education and Labor. “As a former teacher, I know how important it is to invest in both early education and in technical education, as well as training for in-demand skilled careers,” Stuart said.

Stuart is on the Appropriations Committee for higher education, and said colleges and universities are key to tomorrow’s good-paying jobs and economic development. “However, we must also look to enhance technical education opportunities in our high schools,” she said. “That’s why I’m working with our high schools and institutions of higher learning to help strengthen their funding and boost enrollments.”

Since the speech, Pritzker has been touring the state to promote his proposals, including visits to child care centers in East St. Louis. He said that quality childcare and early childhood education gives “the best return on investment” of any government expenditure.


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