DECATUR — With workers still in short supply, Workforce Investment Solutions announced that it was awarded an Illinois Works Grant to offer pre-apprenticeship training to adults 18 years and older.
"There’s going to be a lot of baby boomer retiring from the apprenticeships or from vocational jobs, so we still have to grow," said Rocki Wilkerson, executive director of Workforce Investment Solutions. "You have to have new blood coming in and it’s kind of like the law of supply and demand; if it’s out there, we need to be ready for when those positions aren’t being filled."
The grant will provide just under $500,000 in funds and places an emphasis on creating opportunities for women, people of color and veterans to receive pre-apprenticeship skill training in the construction industry at no cost.
Wilkerson said the grant was a combined effort between Josh Sapp, president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 146, who wrote the grant, and the Decatur Building and Construction Trades Council.
Wilkerson also said One Level, a local non-profit which provides vocational training and pre-apprenticeship programs, is working alongside everyone to provide the necessary education and pathways for individuals to work in the trades.
"We’re gonna go back to the union hall, which will be the IBEW, and we’re going to work hands-on with the tools to get them familiarized," said Richard Phillips, vocational manager at One Level. "Once their certificates are completed, they go on to the houses and now they can put the applications in for the trades."
One Level instructor Kaitlin Coate said programs are held at the Decatur Public Library and the main curriculum focuses on the structure of unions and how it benefits workers versus them working in non-union jobs.
Coate said the program is a co-op between One Level and Richland Community College, while the IBEW sponsors the class certification to teach students and Workforce Investment Solution provides the grant money to support students in their endeavors.
The program also covers how to read blueprints, learn math applied to construction work, and basic training for certifications needed to receive positions like CPR and forklift training, Coate said.
Upon completion of training, Coate said participants will earn a multi-craft core industry credential approved by North America’s Building Trades Unions, which will enable them apply to several different trade union apprenticeship programs.
"The testing stipulation and the interview process to get into the apprenticeship right away seems kind of strenuous. It can take quite a few weeks, you have to do group interviews with people you’ve never met that look professional and for a construction job, it’s just a different type of mindset," Coate said. "I hope this will be a program that we can bridge that process, to lessen the fear of entering an unknown because we’re preparing them for that unknown."
Having worked at nursing homes, Walmart and a plethora of other jobs over the years, Christian Johnson, 23, has always worked to keep himself afloat financially, but knows there are better options available.
After attempting to join a trades union twice before and coming up short both times, Johnson felt like he had no skills in the field and needed something on his resume to show experience.
Luckily, he came across the pre-apprenticeship program at the library taught by Phillips and Coate.
"It’s been great actually. It’s refreshed me on a whole bunch of math because I’m sure I want to be a plumber and there’s a lot of math involved," he said. "This class is helping me every day so I’m confident and I’m gonna be ready this time."
Quajai Seaton, 20, said he found out about the program from his mother and since February he has been learning almost everything he needs to know to get an apprenticeship.
Seaton is even visiting high school students in the area to let them know that there are other options out there instead of college that could make for a worthwhile career.
"For some people, college is for them and for other people, college is not because you could be in a lot of debt," Seaton said. "We’re getting paid to be here and we just have a lot knowledge from what we’ve learned."
"Getting paid here is just a short-term goal, because eventually we will be going to the houses and then we get to into the trades, so it’s just about taking the steps," Seaton said.
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March 24, 2022 at 07:19PM