Chicago Construction News staff writer
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) has awarded $13 million to 30 recipients, expanding the Illinois Works pre-apprenticeship program, which creates a qualified talent pipeline of diverse candidates in construction and the building trades.
Funding will expand access to the program across the state and will serve up to 1,400 pre-apprentices – a 40 percent increase from the program’s inaugural year.
“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,” Governor JB 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.
“And most importantly, it keeps our state’s best assets — our people — at the forefront of economic progress.”
The program launched in 2021 with the goal of increasing diversity and access to apprenticeship programs. Comprehensive pre-apprenticeship programs help participants gain admission to apprenticeship programs, which provide a greater opportunity to obtain employment in the construction trades and secure long-term employment.
During the first program year which concluded in December of 2022, Illinois Works awarded nearly $10 million in funding to 22 organizations, supporting 1,024 participants across the state – the vast majority of whom come from diverse backgrounds.
“Opportunities represent growth, the path to becoming your best self, and the ability to contribute to one’s family and community. This program provides that kind of life-enhancing chance for people from diverse backgrounds and regions,” said Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton.
The inaugural class of pre-apprenticeships far exceeded the diversity of apprentices in Illinois overall:
Through Illinois Works, DCEO is expanding its statewide network of providers to recruit, pre-screen, and provide pre-apprenticeship skills training. Equally important, the program providers offer structured pathways and manage the program graduates’ transition from the pre-apprenticeship program to a full apprenticeship program in construction and building trades.
Participants of the program attend tuition-free and receive a stipend and other supportive, barrier reduction services to help enter the construction industry. Upon completion of the program, pre-apprentices receive industry aligned certifications which will prepare and qualify them to continue to a registered apprenticeship program in one of the trades.