Governor JB Pritzker today announced new investments to the Youth Career Pathways program that will expand training for Illinois youth who face barriers to education, training, and employment. Through a Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) released by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), Illinois will expand access to training and support services for youth ages 16-24 and who are most at-risk for falling behind on career preparation. Applications for the NOFO are due on April 1, 2021, at 5:00 p.m. To apply for the NOFO, please visit DCEO’s website. All training participants will receive access to training in different career sectors, and an opportunity to obtain an industry-recognized credentials and explore hands-on training through work-based learning opportunities. For the first time, this year’s program will prioritize specific populations of hard-to-reach youth, aged 16-24, with funding set asides to serve these populations. This includes the following target populations:
o Youth at risk for dropping out
o Youth leaving the juvenile justice system
o Youth experiencing homelessness
o Youth aging out of foster care
o Youth with a disability
o Youth without access to credential programs
In an effort to better align state resources to serve the needs of these populations, the expanded training program was informed by DCEO’s work with several state agencies charged with implementing youth and workforce programming around the state, including: the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Illinois Community College Board (ICCB), the Department of Human Services (DHS), and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). These latest investments in workforce by the Pritzker administration align with a regional economic development strategy undertaken by DCEO to pair trainings with the needs of Illinois employers today. While training programs may vary by location/provider, the goal is to boost access to training for some of the most in-demand fields in Illinois today: including construction, manufacturing, information technology, transportation & logistics, and more. The NOFO is seeking proposals from school districts, community colleges, community-based organizations and other partners equipped to provide workforce development training that will help vulnerable youth gain access to skills training and work-based learning that will prepare them for job entry.Training grants through the Youth Career Pathways program were issued most recently in 2018, providing service to more than 200 participants—with the majority of trainees in the last round of the program identifying as racially diverse. Working in collaboration with state agencies and workforce partners, DCEO has identified that this program should continue to adhere to equity goals outlined in statute as it is expanded to reach new communities statewide. DCEO will prioritize funding to projects that aim to serve targeted populations identified for serving youth most at-risk for falling behind on career preparedness. Applicants eligible for the program include community colleges, community-based organizations, workforce agencies, school districts and other entities with a demonstrated plan to serve the target populations with postsecondary training and credentialing. Applicants must demonstrate that they have at least one employer partner established, that programming has a work-based learning component, and leads to a recognized post-secondary credential. Recognizing that youth may require other supports to help ensure their education, the NOFO also requires applicants/training orgs to provide wraparound supports for the populations they seek to serve – whether it is housing, transportation, or other specialized needs. The expanded youth training programs help deliver on a central premise of the Governor’s 5-year economic plan, which calls for investments in training programs that help students build the skills they need to seize in-demand jobs while meeting the needs of employers. It also follows on record investments in apprenticeships programs as well as training programs designed to help workers upskill or re-enter the job force as a result of impacts faced during the pandemic.