hen it comes to workforce development, Illinois holds the title as the No. 1 state in the Midwest in part because it is a state with vast talent initiatives.
But it’s not about rankings here. It’s about commitment to building a talent pipeline that powers the state’s leading industries for years to come. In doing so, 2023 has been a year of targeted investments that are gaining the nation’s attention.
From medical research, EV innovation, and aviation to various trades training, the state is leaving no stone unturned. By introducing new initiatives and expanding opportunities to underrepresented populations across every education level, Illinois is prepared for long-term industry success.
Life Sciences Research
Notably, The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Northwestern University, and the University of Chicago were selected for the first expansion of the Chan Zuckerburg Biohub Network in March 2023. Out of 58 applicants and a year-long competitive process, the Chan Zuckerburg Initiative (CZI) selected the state to build out Chan Zuckerburg Biohub Chicago.
Following in the footsteps of CZ Biohub San Francisco, the new biomedical research hub will focus on addressing scientific challenges over the next 10 to 15 years. These institutions will lead in the development of new technologies aimed at studying and measuring human biology, collecting biological signals from human tissues unlike ever before.
“We are excited to scale this successful model of collaborative science into a larger network by welcoming the new Biohub in Chicago,” said CZI Co-Founder and Co-CEO Priscilla Chan in the official announcement. “This institute will embark on science to embed miniaturized sensors into tissues that will allow us to understand how healthy and diseased tissues function in unprecedented detail. This might feel like science fiction today, but we think it’s realistic to achieve huge progress in the next 10 years. I look forward to the advances in science and technology that this new Biohub will spur in studying how tissues function to understand what goes wrong in disease and how to fix it.”
Professor Shana O. Kelley of Northwestern University will serve as president of the new location. To support the project, Governor JB Pritzker committed $25 million in capital funds to aid in its launch. The site will feature a biofoundry, laboratories, meeting spaces, and more to develop these new technologies and lifesaving treatments.
“We’re thrilled to be part of the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub Network, which will galvanize multidisciplinary research and drive more progress than any one of these institutions could have achieved on its own,” said CZ Biohub Chicago President Shana O. Kelley. “The scientific challenge we’re exploring, to develop new tools to better measure tissues and gain insights into inflammation, can only be solved by interdisciplinary collaboration, has large engineering challenges to surmount, and is wildly, but not impossibly, ambitious.”
This new edition supports the state’s ever-growing life sciences industry, which supports over 14,000 companies and more than 579,000 employees. As Illinois ranks among the top five states in the country for life science graduates, projects like this showcase there is plenty of room and talent on board for innovation to take place.
EV Training Charges Forward
Getting in front of the nation’s EV revolution requires collaboration on every level to ensure talent, suppliers, and manufacturers are prepared to lead in our transition to cleaner mobility.
With that in mind, TCCI Manufacturing announced that it will bring an EV Innovation Cluster to central Illinois by 2024. The electric compressor manufacturer plans to collaborate with Richland Community College, the City of Decatur, and the Illinois Innovation Network to bring the state a prime location to tackle workforce needs.
TCCI will invest $20 million to redevelop its Decatur facility from combustion to electric compressor manufacturing. In addition, the state granted Richland Community College with $15.3 million through Rebuild Illinois and the City of Decatur will invest $6 million on the project.
The reimagined facility will be home to an EV Workforce Training Academy, Climatic Center for Innovation and Research, and Electric Compressor Component Manufacturing on TCCI’s site. To address future workforce needs the Innovation Cluster will provide a STEM pathways program and accredited apprenticeship programs.
“Recently, we have been offering more opportunities for students going into technical programs, and Electric Vehicle training is one piece of that puzzle,” says Richland Community College President Dr. Cristobal Valdez. “I have had my eye on the advancements in Electric Vehicle manufacturing for a while. By partnering with TCCI on this new training facility, we are shaping the future of the Central Illinois workforce. We are extremely excited to be a part of this endeavor and grateful to Governor Pritzker and DCEO for their investment in Richland Community College.”
Richland and TCCI will collaborate with the University of Illinois’ Grainger College of Engineering and Northern Illinois University to create the EV Training Academy. Here, students will receive an immersive learning experience focused on EV advanced engineering, software technology, and electrification training. The full-scale Climatic Center will allow students to have a hands-on environment to simulate and test high voltage systems, battery cooling, and A/C and heat pump capabilities.
“Together we are establishing a new model for Illinois that sets the stage for how education, research, and industry work together to cohesively advance us faster, invest in our people, and grow our economy. This state-of-the-art facility will build the bridge from employer and unemployed to keep pace in a rapidly changing economy and address the need to build a skilled workforce. We are honored to be shaping the future of the EV industry in central Illinois,” says Valdez.
Apprenticeships Take Flight
Governor JB Pritzker joined AAR CORP to announce a $2.6 million aviation workforce development investment at Rockford International Airport (RFD).
The program will be housed at AAR’s Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul (MRO) site at the airport which will provide strategic training for both students and employees in collaboration with Rock Valley Community College and various high schools located in Northern Illinois. This investment additionally supports 80 new apprenticeship opportunities focused on growing qualified aviation mechanics to meet industry demand.
The grant, administered through the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), provides AAR room to expand workforce programming, which includes high school aviation programs. Chicago’s Olive-Harvey College will gain an Aviation Sheet Metal course and Rock Valley Community College will develop a new Airframe and Powerplant Program with curriculum enhancements focused on transport category aircraft and systems.
“When we invest in Rockford’s airport and the programs it boasts, we invest in Rockford’s people, advancing opportunity for every Northern Illinoisan,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “Illinois is already a transportation powerhouse, and by working in close collaboration with our state’s powerhouse aviation companies, we are laying the groundwork to keep our communities connected, and competitive, for years to come.”
RFD currently supports over 21,000 jobs with a $4.7 billion economic impact and is home to United Airlines and AAR CORP’s headquarters. With more than 626,000 aviation maintenance technician jobs predicted to hit the market by 2040, according to Boeing’s Pilot and Technician Outlook report, investments like these are vital to the next generation of flight.
Just one day after this investment was announced, Gov. Pritzker and DCEO additionally announced the expansion of the Illinois Works Pre-Apprenticeship Program.
When the program was introduced in 2021, Illinois Works awarded $10 million to 22 organizations, supporting over 1,000 participants. It was designed to increase access to underrepresented populations by providing skills training to transition program graduates to full apprenticeship programs for construction and building trades.
In 2022, 85% of participants were of Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American background, while women represented 25% of pre-apprentices. As the program enters its second year it receives a $13 million award for 30 candidates, which allows for a 40% increase from its first year for up to 1,400 pre-apprentices in 2023.
This year, 19 renewed grantees and 11 new grantee organizations and institutions were awarded funding, ranging from $200,000 to $600,000, to aid participants in receiving certification that will qualify for continuation into relevant trade apprenticeship programs.