Illinois to invest more than $40 million in workforce training

SPRINGFIELD - Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that the state will award more than $40 million in workforce training grants, focusing on communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and youth who are particularly at risk of violence.

That includes $40 million in Workforce Recovery Grants that will go out in two phases over the next year, plus $4.4 million in career training grants that have already been awarded to 20 training programs that focus on at-risk youths. Funding for both programs comes from the federal American Rescue Plan Act.

Applications for the first round of Workforce Recovery Grants totaling $20 million opened Thursday. Information about how to apply for those grants is available on the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's website. A second round of applications is expected to open in the spring.

Pritzker made the announcement at a training center on Chicago's West Side, Revolution Workshop, which is partnering with one of the youth grant recipients, BUILD Chicago Inc.

"This is yet another step in our efforts to deliver high-quality opportunities that put all of our young people on a path to a career, with a heightened focus on those that have been historically left behind," Pritzker said.

The Workforce Development Grants will be used to expand access to training, job placement and other services that prevent people from gaining employment, the administration said in a news release. Funding is also available for individuals with emergency costs for basic needs that prevent them from participating in training programs or employment.

The administration expects roughly 1,500 individuals in areas disproportionately affected by the pandemic will receive services.

"We're focusing on getting people back to work in ways that build careers that are meaningful and bring home good paying jobs for their families," acting DCEO Director Sylvia Garcia said. "We are also prioritizing equity in this work and making sure everyone has access to opportunity. We're also helping to provide support for our employer partners to make sure we're filling the jobs that they need and thinking about what those jobs of the future are."

The youth training grants are being distributed to organizations throughout the state that provide education and training in career pathways for youth who may be at risk of dropping out of school or experiencing violence.

"These investments our communities desperately need," said Manny Ramirez, executive director of Revolution Workshop. "Because of these investments, organizations like mine and our partner BUILD Chicago and others will be able to provide real economic mobility that can truly break the cycles of poverty."

Thursday's announcement came just days after Pritzker announced that $327 million more would be made available this year to help low-income individuals pay their utility bills and meet other expenses. That includes the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program and the Community Services Block Grant Program, which offers expanded services to help residents pay rent, utilities, food and other household expenses, regardless of immigration status.

In addition to those measures, Pritzker also announced Thursday the formation of a new Commission on Workforce Equity and Access, which will study ways to diversify existing training programs to promote equity and inclusion across all industries.

The commission will be headed by Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford and Deputy Gov. Andy Manar.

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