Illinois launches job-training programs in construction and clean energy sectors

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Chicago Construction News staff writer

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has announced $10 million in funding for the Climate Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program and $6 million for the Energy Transition Barrier Reduction Program.

Funds will expand training opportunities in the trades, expand the clean energy talent pipeline, and boost diversity in the clean energy trade industries by providing resources to limit barriers to participation. The programs will be run through training partners which will be selected through a competitive Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) process.

“The Climate Works and Barrier Reduction programs are essential to opening the door to countless opportunities in the clean energy trades industry for communities who have historically been left out and left behind,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement. “Economic progress in Illinois depends on our diverse workforce, and these investments will break down barriers for more women and people of color to pave the way with good-paying careers that will push our state toward a carbon-free future.

“The strategic investments we make today in our clean energy workforce will have a lasting impact for generations to come.”

The program will prioritize underrepresented populations and Illinoisans living in communities that have historically faced economic and environmental barriers, bolstering a diverse workforce in the clean energy industry and be bolstered by Barrier Reduction Program funding, which will provide services for participants to address common barriers for underrepresented populations such as transportation, childcare, supplies, and other expenditures that often amount to roadblocks to success.

“Supporting Illinois’ strong, diverse and qualified workforce is among DCEO’s highest priorities as we build our clean energy future and grow our economy,” said DCEO Director Kristin A. Richards. “Climate Works doesn’t just offer training opportunities in the clean energy sector – it also provides comprehensive support, and funding to eliminate economic barriers to sector access.

“This pre-apprenticeship program relies on nationally recognized credentials to train the workforce, and is designed to help participants succeed while creating a more diverse workforce pipeline. Thousands of future Climate Works participants will help push Illinois toward securing a carbon-free future.”

The Climate Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program will align with the needs of clean energy employers in the construction and building trades, provide students with nationally recognized certifications, and provide a pathway to an apprenticeship in the growing renewable energy, electrification and energy efficiency industries. The program will also provide access to educational and career counseling along with hands-on learning that will reinforce foundational professional skills taught in the classroom.

“Communities like mine are too often left behind, even when the larger economy is booming,” said State Rep. Marcus C. Evans, Jr. “This pre-apprenticeship program will go a long way in ensuring that Black and Latino men and women are at the forefront of the clean-energy economy. I look forward to seeing the graduates of these programs from my district working on projects that will power Illinois for generations to come.”

As outlined in statute, the pre-apprenticeship program will consist of three regional centers serving the Chicago metropolitan area, Northern /Central Illinois, and Southern Illinois. Centers will recruit, prescreen, and provide pre-apprenticeship skills training, for which participants can attend free of charge, receive a stipend, and access to support services through the Barrier Reduction Program.

People of color, women, and other underrepresented populations have historically been significantly underrepresented in apprenticeship programs. A pre-apprenticeship helps break down barriers and provide greater access to apprenticeships, which provide a pathway to good-paying long-term careers. The Climate Works model provides nationally recognized credentials, provides funding to cover costs to address barriers, and provides hands-on support that will help program graduates enter an apprenticeship program and lay the foundation for a long-term career in a growing sector.

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