Investing in a 21st Century Workforce


A well-trained workforce is essential to the recovery and continued growth of Illinois’ economy. Now is the time to invest in job training and education for those wishing to enter the workforce or upgrade their current skills.

However, current investments at both the state and federal level fall far short of meeting the demand for these services. New sustainable resources need to be secured to take successful state-level workforce and economic strategies from pilots to scale, with the flexibility to meet the changing needs of employers in communities across the state.

The 21st Century Workforce Development Fund Act (HB 852) creates the structure for a state-level fund to “promote the State’s interest in the creation and maintenance of a diverse and skilled workforce for the economic development of the State” and is the first step towards establishing a flexible, sustainable funding source for education, skills training, and other workforce development services that will build the 21st Century workforce that employers need to grow and Illinois needs to have a strong economy.

The Illinois Works for the Future Campaign is promoting implementation of this fund.

The 21st Century Workforce Development Fund is structured so that funds from any source—whether state general revenue; bond proceeds; federal; or philanthropic—can be deposited and used to support the priorities outlined in the legislation. The Act prioritizes Illinois residents with the greatest need for training: individuals with barriers to employment; individuals with low literacy and math skills; and workers with jobs affected by local, state or federal environmental policy.

Illinois communities with the greatest need for economic development because they have high rates of unemployment, underemployment, or poverty are also priorities under the act.

With an eye to ensuring the integration of economic development and workforce developing, it prioritizes Illinois industries with the greatest need for skilled workers and industries identified to be facing a critical shortage of skilled workers; as well as “green” industries such as energy efficient building construction, retrofit, and assessment; renewable energy; deconstruction and materials use; and sustainable manufacturing.

The Act allows for funds to be used flexibly to meet local needs for skills training, including:

  • Innovative workforce strategies, including: occupational training, basic skills training, sectoral workforce strategies, transitional jobs strategies, and bridge programming.
  • Additional funding for proven workforce strategies, including Illinois’ successful Job Training and Economic Development grant program.:
  • Related workforce development services needed by individuals in order to succeed in training including job development and support services.
  • Local capacity building, program development, and technical assistance activities necessary for the development of new education and training strategies.

Finally, the Act provides for accountable and transparent administration of the fund by requiring a competitive grant-making process administered by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Additional oversight is to be provided by an advisory committee of 21 individuals representing diverse public and private sector stakeholders including representation from: non-profit organizations; communities outside of Chicago; Local Workforce Investment Boards; labor unions; business; state agencies; and state legislators.

Pathways to Careers: Building Bridges to College & Careers


Today’s labor market values both job skills and academic credentials, but many workers lack the basic skills necessary to succeed in post-secondary education and advance to better jobs.

The Chicago Jobs Council’s Illinois Works for the Future campaign has joined efforts with Women Employed to launch the Pathways to Careers Network.  Building on innovation across Illinois, together we are networking with workforce providers, community colleges, adult educators and other organizations that want to make post-secondary education and career paths accessible to the lowest-skilled adults in Illinois.

Launched in April 2012, our networking focuses on three areas:

  • Inform:  Provide information on program models that help adults make successful transitions from Adult and Developmental education into college and careers.
  • Facilitate connections among education and workforce development practitioners and leaders to: share ideas and strategies; and identify challenges and policy barriers to the expansion of programs.
  • Advocate: We advance a bold policy agenda that makes adult college and career transitions a priority for Illinois.

For more information on the Pathways to Careers Network, please visit:

To get up-to-date information on the Pathways to Careers Network, please email Mary Kay Devine at Women Employed:

To find out more about how to partner with IWF and CJC to promote the role of community-based providers in the development and implementation of transition strategies, please email Carrie Thomas at CJC:

IWF and CJC promote “bridge” programs as one of the most innovative strategies for low-skilled adults to enter and succeed in post-secondary education that leads to career-path employment. Through high-quality bridge programs, participants who lack literacy and numeracy skills and educational credentials beyond a high school degree can gain basic skills in reading, math and English that is contextualized to a specific industry or career, as well as the vocational training and workplace competencies necessary to succeed in a particular field.

In Illinois the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) and Illinois Community College Board adopted one definition of bridge programs for use across state systems. The definition incorporates the best practices from the field and require that a bridge program must have three core elements:

  • Contextualized instruction that integrates basic reading, writing, math and language skills with industry-specific knowledge and occupational instruction
  • Career development that includes career counseling and exploration, career planning within a specific field, and knowledge of the workplace
  • Support services that provide students with the necessary information and support to transition from adult basic education or remedial courses to credit bearing or occupational programs. These services may include academic advising and assessment, tutoring or coaching, personal guidance or peer mentoring, and supplemental resources such as childcare or transportation.

The most effective programs are the result of strong partnerships amongst community colleges, community based organizations, and local employers.  Examples include:

  • SER’s Healthcare Careers Pathway Programs work in partnership with Daley College and the Arturo Velasquez Institute to offer participants a contextualized literacy and numeracy program so that they may gain admission into a healthcare-focused occupational training program at Chicago City Colleges and ultimately find employment at a healthcare facility. SER’s Healthcare Bridge program has seen a 90 percent completion rate and 85 percent or higher completion rates for the Certified Nursing Assistant training program.  Of the 100 individuals who have attained a C.N.A. or Medical Billing & Coding certification, nearly 70 have already attained employment. Others have decided to continue their education full-time.
  • The John Deere Agricultural Technology Program at Lake Land College works together with John Deere to provide participants the opportunity to excel in today’s high-tech, fast-paced field of agricultural mechanization. The program combines classroom instruction, hands-on training, and paid Supervised Occupational Experiences at John Deere dealerships so that participants can “earn while they learn” on their way to the two-year Associate of Applied Science degree.

For more information on how to develop a bridge program, examples and their success:

Bridge programs not only increase the number of low-income working adults that enter and succeed in post-secondary education leading to a degree or certificate, but also increase the potential earnings and job quality of low-income adults while responding to local employer needs. Bridge programs are a great investment for individuals, employers, communities and Illinois.

Join the Pathways to Careers Network to learn more about bridge programs, and what you can do to increase the number and effectiveness of bridge programs in Illinois!

Transitional Jobs: Reducing Barriers to Employment


Transitional Jobs (TJ) programs are an employment strategy designed to help individuals overcome barriers to employment.  Programs allow participants to: learn work customs and routines through experience; acquire workplace skills; establish an employment record; and generate employer references to help them succeed in the labor market.

Emerging as a successful strategy only in the past decade, TJ programs recently have begun to receive funding through state and federal workforce development initiatives.

Transitional Jobs programs assume that everyone can work, but may need assistance in managing barriers in order to succeed in employment.  Barriers may include anything from lack of appropriate education to limited literacy to substance abuse or mental illness to a record of incarceration.

With appropriate case management, support services and confidence gained from success in the workplace, TJ provides participants with learning opportunities, earned wages (which often qualifies them to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit and other tax credits), and the support necessary to transition to full-time, permanent employment.

TJ programs typically have the following core components:

  • orientation and assessment
  • life skills/job readiness training
  • temporary wage-paying subsidized employment
  • case management and support services
  • mentoring
  • job development
  • placement in unsubsidized employment
  • job retention/incentives, and i)education and training

To date, research and evaluation studies of TJ programs have demonstrated noteworthy outcomes including that participants are more likely to be employed and stay employed following participation in a TJ program; and that participants have increased earnings and less reliance on public benefits over time.  The NationalTransitional Jobs Network is a clearinghouse for information about TJ programs.

TJ programs are continuing to attract the attention of policy makers and funders.  For example:

  • The Neighborhood JobStart program is a partnership between the 2016 Fund for Chicago Neighborhoods and the Illinois Department of Human Services that leverages the federal TANF Emergency Contingency Fund authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  The program will provide transitional jobs to over 2000 young adults and adults in Chicago from June to September of this year.
  • Opportunity Chicago was a workforce development initiative that utilized the TJ model as one of its strategies to prepare 5,000 public-housing residents for jobs.  Since January 2006, over 170 CHA residents have participated in transitional jobs.
  • At the state level, The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) administers one of the largest Transitional Jobs programs for ex-offenders in the nation and the Department of Human Services (IDHS) is in its second year of funding a TJ pilot project serving TANF cash assistance recipients at 4 sites in Chicago.
  • For the first time, the FY11 federal budget includes a $40 million dollar appropriation for Transitional Jobs that will be administered by the U.S. Department of Labor in collaboration with the Department of Health and Human Service and the Department of Corrections.

To date, Transitional Jobs programs have been funded in an unsystematic way.  The examples noted above reveal that most are operated with one-time funding and only on only a small scale.  In Illinois there is neither a state-level policy nor a dedicated source of funding.  IWF will capitalize on the momentum and success of TJ programs to work with policy makers towards sustainable funding supported by policies that allow the expansion of TJ programs.

Learn the Issues: Addressing Barriers to Employment

Job Creation through Social Enterprise


In recent years, many nonprofit organizations have embraced the idea of social enterprise as a way to provide jobs for some of their hardest-to-serve clients and generate income for their organizations. Social enterprises are business ventures formed primarily to further a socially beneficial mission, while operating with the discipline, level of innovation and market responsiveness of an effective for-profit business. These organizations operate a business that employs its clients, and sells its products or services.  The earned income generated by social ventures can provide unrestricted funds to support the organization’s work. Just like a stand-along Transitional Jobs program, social enterprises help people with barriers to employment gain workplace skills and experience, and can also encourage entrepreneurship by giving their participant/employees skills that can lead to business start ups of their own.

In Illinois, several nonprofits have adopted the social enterprise model; the organizations below are just a sample.

Decatur is Growing Gardeners (DIGG), Decatur, IL
DIGG is an emerging social enterprise that began in 2009.  DIGG engages low-income or unemployed persons to learn gardening skills and then garden, using the produce for themselves and their families and/or selling the produce at local markets.  Currently DIGG is partnering with Richland Community College to offer a non-credit basic gardening course for its gardeners. DIGG is on its way to becoming a vibrant social enterprise and establishing a role in the local marketplace with plans to selling vegetables at farmers’ markets and garden stands, develop agreements with restaurants and/or grocery stores to purchase vegetables from DIGG and its individual gardeners and partners, and to develop a kitchen incubator to promote ways for low-income participants to sell processed foods on their own.

Inspiration Kitchens
As a social enterprise of Inspiration Corporation, Inspiration Kitchens is a 13-week restaurant skills training program designed to help students learn basic culinary skills and concepts. Trainees gain hands-on experience preparing and serving meals to the paying public at the Inspiration Kitchens restaurant during the internship period. Each student is tested to receive a City of Chicago food service sanita­tion management certificate at the end of the program.


As a social enterprise of The Cara Program , Cleanslate provides transitional jobs related to neighborhood beautification, including cleaning sidewalks, parkways, public gardens and vacant lots. All Cleanslate participants are individuals affected by homelessness and poverty.

Learn the Issue Integration of Workforce and Economic Development

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