ften hailed for its loyal, perseverant workers, Illinois opens a new chapter in its history as transformative workforce programs gain speed and strength. From the nine workforce programs enacted under the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, to the training partnerships with companies like Rivian, and schools like Heartland Community College, the state has a pathway for everyone.
“This is not a system for the next job,” said DCEO’s Dr. Norman Ruano. “This is a system for a career.” Dr. Ruano is the deputy director of the Illinois Works office and oversees a variety of workforce programs, including the growing pre-apprenticeship programs.
Illinois’ apprenticeship strength has had its ups and down throughout the past six decades, particularly with the rise and fall of labor unions and a push for white-collar workers. Now, the state has revitalized interest in apprentices. Historically, the largest apprenticeship industries were construction and industrial maintenance, but the work-learning model is becoming more popular in manufacturing, trade, utilities, hospitality, and even tech-based sectors like finance, logistics and personal services. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor (USDOL) gave more than $23 million to various organizations for the purpose of developing apprenticeship programs, and funding has repeatedly grown for these programs in the past seven years.
In 2019, the state received an Apprenticeship State Expansion Grant for $2.1 million to fund 800 new apprentices. In 2021, the state received another grant from USDOL for $6 million.
What does this mean for employers? Dr. Ruano painted an inviting profile for businesses looking to expand their apprenticeship opportunities. Apprenticeships offer a secure and loyal talent pool, opportunity to fill hard-to-find positions, and now can provide contractors with bid credits. “We engage contractors that are interested in hiring and retaining those individuals,” said Dr. Ruano. “Those contractors are then able to receive credits as a result of that engagement, and they use those bid credits to be more competitive.”
Dr. Ruano also described an innovative tool being developed for contractors that will be able to look for talent in specific geographies. Contractors will be able to view a profile of individuals in the area graduating from pre-apprentice or apprenticeship programs, and in turn make the decision to interview and hire them to claim bid credits.
Currently, there are more than 17,000 active apprentices in the state. The goal is to increase pre-apprentice registration to 2,500 people per year in the next five years, with stair-step goals of 1,000 participants this year and 1,500 next year. Long-term goals include being more aggressive on the business side and integrating 500 new contractors for their bid credit program.
In terms of success, a summary of the results of the pre-apprenticeship programs will be released with the annual report in early 2023. Right now, DCEO is testing five program models across various partners. One Dr. Ruano favors is a model run in tandem with a business association that represents contractors. “The model is very interesting because not only do they have a reputation of working well with contractors, now they also have a reputation of running programming to provide a talent pipeline for those contractors,” he said.
DCEO understands the importance employers play in their workforce program, and wants to honor that. “We are designing a program that is based around their needs and understanding their needs,” Dr. Ruano said. “At the end of the day, if contractors are not involved in hiring these individuals and retaining them, and giving them an opportunity, we are not going to be able to create that healthy talent pipeline.”