Illinois Programs Look to Train Current, Future Workforce

Community Colleges provide instruction and workforce preparation in more than 240 occupational specialties.

Bill Lewis
On Thursday, April 11, 2013 - 10:42
Illinois Workforce

A cornerstone of Illinois' economic development success is the quality and depth of its workforce. More than 30 percent of all workers over age 25 have a bachelor's degree and 11 percent have advanced degrees, both figures above the national average.

Higher education institutions in the state are helping to provide and sharpen the state's workforce skills to meet employer needs and emerging careers.

The state has 48 community colleges and one community college center that provide instruction and workforce preparation in more than 240 occupational specialties. Those specialties reflect the latest industry trends and the hottest career paths, with the community colleges frequently working with employers on customized training programs.

As a result, nearly one-half of the state’s 5.6 million workers are skilled technicians, craftspeople or machine operators, and 10.1 percent are specifically employed in manufacturing. Today, nearly 60 percent of Illinois workers have gained education beyond high school.

Post-Secondary Priority

The Illinois State Board of Education announced in 2012 that Illinois is among six states that will participate in the Pathways to Prosperity Network, a coalition that aims to increase the number of high school graduates who attain a post-secondary credential with value in the labor market. The initiative began in Chicago and Aurora schools with a long-term goal to create a statewide system of career pathways.

“This is about schools and businesses working together to provide greater guidance and options so our young people can make smart choices as they complete high school, then move on to post-secondary education and jobs that will better support them and the Illinois economy,” says Illinois Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch.

In late 2012, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn met with business and education leaders to launch Illinois Pathways, a public-private partnership to develop science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning across the state.

“Businesses will play a critical role in this process by giving students real-world experience in certain fields, which will be most important in peaking their interest in STEM careers,” Quinn says. “A 2011 report shows that Illinois will have an estimated 319,000 STEM-related job openings by 2018, and about 93 percent of those jobs will require post-secondary education or training.”

Nine Clusters of Hot Careers

The Illinois Workforce Investment Board has established nine clusters of careers it deems will be most important in Illinois for the foreseeable future. The clusters are health science, manufacturing, energy, finance, transportation and distribution, information technology, architecture and construction, research and development, and agriculture and natural resources.

“The goal is for high schools, community colleges, technical colleges, and colleges and universities to start offering more of these curricula that lead to these hot careers in Illinois,” says John Rico, chairman of the Illinois Workforce Investment Board. “These career opportunities will be ideal for many individuals in high school or colleges today, or for an armed services veteran returning to Illinois or a baby boomer who wants to get retooled for a fresh start.”


Bill Lewis is an award-winning business journalist whose work has appeared in publications across the United States.