CHICAGO Governor JB Pritzker today joined the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and community leaders to announce significant investments to expand workforce training and support Illinois’ continued economic recovery from the pandemic. The new initiatives include a $40 million workforce recovery grant program aimed to get more job seekers back to work while helping sectors impacted most by COVID-19. The funding will expand workforce training, job training, and support services as well as cover basic expenses that are barriers to those seeking employment.

To ensure a holistic approach in creating a more equitable workforce, the administration also released $4.4 million in career training grants for at-risk youth. In addition, the Governor announced a new cross-functional Commission on Workforce Equity and Access to boost equitable access to workforce services across the state.

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“I’m proud to announce a new $40 million workforce recovery grant program aimed at getting more job seekers back to work and helping small businesses hit hardest by the pandemic,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “We’re also expanding on the success of our first-ever youth career pathways program aimed at helping get more at-risk youth into rewarding careers with an additional $4.4 million — focusing in communities where it’s most needed. These are the key components of our recovery from the pandemic, and our commitment to build a better Illinois for everyone.”

Workforce Recovery Grants

The State of Illinois will leverage $40 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to provide workforce recovery grants focused on helping increase employment among workers and industries hit hardest by COVID-19. The workforce recovery grant program will utilize the state’s Job Training and Economic Development Program (JTED) model to boost access to education, training, and supportive services needed for vulnerable residents to successfully re-enter the labor force.

Illinois will invest in training programs that support regional and local economic development for businesses and individuals most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will expand access to training, job placement, support services and reduce barriers that prevent individuals from successfully re-entering the labor force. Additionally, flexible funding is available for individuals with emergency costs for basic needs that prevent them from participating in training programs or employment. It is anticipated that 1,500 Illinois unemployed, underemployed, or underrepresented citizens in disproportionately impacted areas will receive needed services.
“DCEO is committed to investing in workforce development programs that help close the equity gap – and our latest training investments are aimed at meeting residents where they are and providing access to training for 21st-century career paths,” said DCEO Acting Director Sylvia Garcia. “Under Governor Pritzker’s leadership, we are advancing timely investments in our workforce recovery that will help our Illinois communities collectively build back better and strengthen our talent pool which time and again is cited by new and existing employers as a top reason to live, work and do business in Illinois.”

A $20 million NOFO released today marks the first phase of the workforce recovery program, with a second-round expected by next spring. JTED funding will focus on hard-hit sectors which have seen a labor shortage since the onset of the pandemic – such as manufacturing, healthcare, arts and entertainment, waste management, and retail.

To ensure the maximum impact of these dollars, the administration will focus on underserved populations, including those facing barriers to employment due to layoffs and those underrepresented groups from communities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

“As the result of an unprecedented global pandemic, investments in workforce training have never been more important for our communities, our people, and our economy,” said Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood). “I’m proud to join Gov. Pritzker in announcing the next steps to guide our continued economic recovery with investments that will put more people back to work. I look forward to heading up the work of the commission so that we can close the equity gap and level the playing field to ensure everyone has equal access to quality career opportunities.”

Youth Career Pathways

To build on the administration’s investments in youth career training programs, the Governor announced the release of $4.4 million in grants to support increased access to training for at-risk youth across the state. These investments will support an expansion of training programs across the state with funds deployed to 20 partner organizations serving an estimated 500 youth over a one-year period.

Youth career pathway grant recipients include:

  • Goodwill Industries of Northern Illinois, $325,000
  • Homework Hangout, Inc, $300,000
  • OIA, Inc, $300,000
  • YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, $299,959
  • Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, $285,000
  • Phalanx Family Services, $260,000
  • Greater West Town Community Development Project, $250,000
  • Workforce Investment Solutions $250,000
  • Teens Against Killing Everywhere, $250,000
  • Youth Job Center, $250,000
  • Reset to Success Foundation, $205,000
  • Peoria Public Schools, $202,648
  • CAPS, Inc., $200,000
  • Quad County Urban League Aurora, $200,000
  • UCAN, $200,000
  • Illinois Foundation of SkillsUSA – VICA, $180,000
  • BUILD, Inc., $170,000
  • New Moms, $150,000
  • Hope Center Foundation, $105,000
  • Southeastern Illinois College, $98,718

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“We at Revolution Workshop are beyond grateful that our Governor and State Legislature have made critical investments into our workforce systems that our communities need,” said Manny Rodriguez, Executive Director of Revolution Workshop. “Because of these investments, we are now able to provide real economic opportunities that can truly break the cycle of poverty for so many people across our city and state.”

"At BUILD we know the most powerful thing to give a young person is a job - a job plus the skills, discipline, and resilience to keep it, " says Andres Alvear, Chief Program Officer at BUILD. "This strong investment from the state will help us develop a workforce program integrated directly with all of our other services, from mental health care to leadership and creativity. It will help BUILD youth get one step closer to the positive and successful futures they deserve."

Governor’s Commission on Workforce Equity & Access

Recognizing the need for a holistic and streamlined state workforce system with a focus on those who were disproportionally impacted by the pandemic, the Governor formed the Commission on Workforce Equity & Access. The Commission is charged with creating a vision for an equitable, accessible, and effective state workforce system grounded in an understanding of user and stakeholder experience, including how racial, social, and geographic inequities inform experience and outcomes across Illinois’ federally and state-funded workforce programs.

Among its top priorities, the Commission will find ways to strengthen and diversify existing workforce training programs to address shortages, expand access to talent, and to promote equity and inclusion across all industries. The membership of the Commission includes a diverse group of workforce ecosystem stakeholders, including state agencies, workforce providers, employers, organized labor and workers’ rights advocates, local workforce innovation areas, and education leaders.

Members are as follows:

  • Andy Manar, Deputy Governor (Co-Chair)
  • Kimberly Lightford, State Senator (Co-Chair)
  • Sylvia Garcia, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity
  • Grace Hou, Illinois Department of Human Services
  • Brian Durham, Illinois Community College Board
  • Michael Kleinik, Illinois Department of Labor
  • Kristin Richards, Illinois Department of Employment Security
  • Michael Cassel, Boeing
  • Nancy Lally, Hilton
  • Matt Johanson, Discover
  • Laurie Philips, Terra Source Global
  • Dorval Carter, Chicago Transit Authority
  • Victor Dickson, Safer Foundation
  • Mollie Dowling, OAI
  • Elba Aranda-Suh, National Latino Education Institute
  • Erica Sweeney Staley, Manufacturing Renaissance
  • Karin Norington-Reaves, Chicago-Cook Workforce Partnership
  • Rocki Wilkerson, Workforce Investment Solutions
  • Kathy Lively, Man-Tra-Con, Inc.
  • Ken Trzaska, Lewis & Clark Community College
  • Lazaro Lopez, District 214 – Arlington Heights
  • Sheila Quirk-Bailey, Illinois Central College
  • Cherita Owens, Women Employed
  • Angela Morrison, Chicago Jobs Council
  • Oswaldo Alvarez, Chicago Workers Collaborative
  • John Rico, Illinois Workforce Innovation Board
  • Deborah Cosey-Lane, Amalgamated Transit Union
  • Anthony Jerry Womick, Laborers Local 773
  • Jason Ashmore, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 50
  • Don Finn, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 134
  • John Herring, Illinois Network of Centers on Independent Living

Facilitation assistance for the Commission’s work and meetings will be provided by Afton Partners, MRDC, and C-Change, and sponsored by the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance.

“The Foundations collaborating through the Workforce Funder Alliance are proud to support the work of the Governor’s Commission on Workforce Equity and Access. This is a unique opportunity to strengthen the admirable commitment of our state’s leaders to a public workforce development system that centers equity and inclusion,” said Jennifer Miller Rehfeldt, Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance Executive Committee Member, and Sr. Program Officer, Lloyd A. Fry Foundation.

“The Commission on Workforce Equity and Access was created to address the structural issues in Illinois' workforce system that continue to hold back low-income, women, and people of color from long-term economic success,” said State Representative Carol Ammons (D-Champaign). “Our hope for this commission is to alleviate structural barriers to gainful employment and build a stronger support system for workers as they navigate the job-seeking process. Most importantly, this commission is driven by the principle that we must treat all workers with dignity and respect, and that includes the vulnerable communities who so often fall through the cracks of our current economic system.”

"We applaud the Governor and legislators for reinvigorating the JTED Program. Historically this initiative was able to serve job seekers with systemic barriers to employment because it was community-driven, and recognized and responded to unique Illinois realities," said Rev. Rachel Birkah-Rommelfanger, Advocacy Manager at the Chicago Jobs Council. "Relaunching this program will build on that legacy by creating a Barrier Reduction Fund, which will increase job training programs' ability to provide fast, emergency assistance so issues like overdue rent or lack of childcare won't stand in the way of participants meeting their career advancement goals."

The administration has made significant investments in training programs for students, workforce development aligned to high-growth industries, as well as a record level of investment in apprenticeships through programs like Illinois Works. These new investments in workforce recovery fulfill a central tenet of Governor Pritzker’s $1.5 billion economic recovery plan – focused on reinvigorating businesses and communities and helping residents get back on their feet. For information on workforce training opportunities, please visit DCEO’s website:

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