Unemployment in the United States has hovered around 3.5% for the past 6 months. Illinois’ own rate hasn’t been too far off at 3.7%. Granted, these numbers are historically low; that’s cause for some optimism. At the same time, their negative implications shouldn’t be ignored. Employers nationwide struggle to find qualified workers. Per a recent publication by the ILO, a growing number of workers find themselves underemployed, having one or more jobs but lacking livable wages. With record low unemployment in the US, a record high number of people are still struggling to make ends meet.
Public and private sector officials have acknowledged issues relating to labor shortages, to a degree. Others have chosen to limit their focus to the benefits of a low unemployment rate, or towards industries that are experiencing explosive job growth. In Illinois, things are shaping up differently. State legislators from both chambers have taken concrete steps to confront skilled-labor shortages. This year, four laws will go into effect that address workforce development through an approach that’s tried-and-true: apprenticeship programs.
The first is House Bill 2304 which creates the Youth Training and Education in the Building Trades Program. This act covers several bases. Grants established for this program will go to community-based organizations familiar with the building trades. These organizations will deliver hands-on training to youth aged 18 to 35 in their selected trade. Those who complete the training will be eligible for additional education and credentials. The program is geared toward at-risk youth, providing them with the mentorship and professional development that may help them launch their own companies in the building trades. Another noteworthy act, Senate Bill 2024, instructs the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to conduct a study on the potential expansion of apprenticeship programs in the state. Results from this study could have immense benefits for apprenticeship programs not just in the building trades, but in manufacturing and beyond.
Bills like these are excellent indicators that Illinois government officials see the value in apprenticeship programs. This sort of training lays the groundwork so Illinois will have dedicated, qualified employees in emerging generations. Apprenticeships also combat workforce shortages because of the invaluable exposure they give to young workers. Spending time in a real shop is the best way to dispel popular myths that shops are dark, dirty, and dull. Instead, apprenticeships offer a window into the vibrant and innovative workspaces that produce the things we use every single day.
Photo of our team on site at Freedman’s Seating during a workforce development survey in June 2019.
Further, these programs are key in promoting the idea that one can live comfortably with a career in the trades. It’s also promising to see that diversity was in the minds of the bills’ sponsors. Their aim is to ensure that no communities are left out of the benefits these programs will bring to our state. By making these acts into laws, Illinois legislators have demonstrated a commitment to better jobs for all Illinois residents, for today and years to come.
Below, you can find more information on the laws going into effect this year concerning IL expansion of apprenticeship programs:
Creates the Youth Training and Education in the Building Trades Program with the Department of Human Services and the Illinois Housing Development Authority to train at-risk youth for careers in the building trades. (Martinez)
Strengthens support for minority-owned companies, allows some companies to qualify for the Business Enterprise Program if they meet certain municipal-level qualifications, and increase diversity in apprenticeships for construction and the building trades. (Harris)
Requires the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to conduct a study on the potential expansion of apprenticeship programs and publish it by June 1, 2020. (Gillespie)
Requires Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to create a Clean Water Workforce Pipeline Program to prepare people for a career in water infrastructure. (Villivalam)
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