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Illinois Tollway Constructionworks program launches across Northern Illinois

Access to training, apprenticeships and careers within skilled construction trades offered through the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership

A few years ago, during a panel discussion at the 47th annual Congressional Black Caucus, U.S. Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) was the opening speaker on the topic of “Putting Black America to Work: the New Skilled Trade Workforce.” Lawrence noted that the industry supported by skilled trade workers will need an infusion of youth because the average age of workers was 53 years old.

Rep. Lawrence said, “We are building a new bridge from Detroit to Windsor (Canada). I’ve been told we are bringing in welders from Vietnam to help build it.” It seems unfathomable that the United States, a country with a population of approximately 330 million, has to import welders from another country—especially when some of those unionized trade jobs pay $30, $40 or $50 an hour. However, as Lawrence said, “One of the trade skills in big demand now is for welders.”

The Illinois Tollway is a major employer of people in trades. You might say the Illinois Tollway is trying to avoid a similar situation by creating a pipeline of skilled workers with the recent announcement of its new ConstructionWorks workforce training and careers program.

Before the Christmas Holiday the Illinois Tollway Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and Executive Director Liz Gorman, along with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, state transportation leaders Sen. Martin Sandoval and Rep. Marcus Evans, announced that its new ConstructionWorks workforce training and careers program was ready to begin serving job seekers at 18 sites in Cook County, DuPage County, Chicago, Rockford, Aurora and Waukegan.

“We are marking the official start of ConstructionWorks to create a pipeline of qualified diverse men and women ready for careers in the heavy highway and related construction industries,” said Illinois Tollway Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom. “ConstructionWorks will provide more than just job opportunities – it will allow workers to support their families, send their kids to college and build a better future for themselves.”

ConstructionWorks is a race- and gender-neutral initiative that will work to recruit and prepare historically under-represented and economically disadvantaged people to be trained and placed into apprenticeship programs to meet the projected demands of the construction industry. More specifically, diverse communities, including African-Americans, veterans and women.

New workers, including laborers, equipment operators, carpenters, electricians, iron workers, cement masons and others within the critical heavy-highway construction industry are needed to work on construction projects as part of the Tollway’s 15-year, $14 billion Move Illinois capital program, as well as other capital projects advanced by Cook County, the Illinois Department of Transportation and transit agencies.

ConstructionWorks is expected to train and place at least 150 individuals in apprenticeship and training programs or advance participation within the skilled trades during an initial three-year term, with an emphasis on heavy highway skilled construction trades.

In 2013, the Tollway created a community hiring initiative in the south suburbs when it began expanding the I-294/I-57 Interchange. Community residents ultimately worked more than 10,500 hours on that project.

Each training session offered in our ConstructionWorks program runs for eight weeks to 12 weeks, depending on the skills being taught. As an example, the Technical Opportunities Program is a 12-week session conducted by Chicago Women in Trades that is intended to prepare job seekers to enter apprentice programs for all occupations that are prevalent in the heavy highway and vertical building construction industries, including electricians, carpenters, iron workers, cement masons, equipment operators, plumbers and pipefitters.

“As legislators, we always strive to expand access to opportunities for diverse communities. I applaud the leadership from the Tollway for their commitment to do just that,” said Illinois Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Martin Sandoval. “ConstructionWorks is a great example of what’s possible when the public and private sectors work together to accomplish great things for the people of Illinois.”

“This free program is making it possible for diverse men and women to create a better future for their families,” added Illinois House Transportation Committee Chairman Marcus Evans. “By breaking down barriers to high-demand, high-growth job opportunities, the Illinois Tollway is making a path to success a reality. I urge all those seeking a rewarding career to get started with the ConstructionWorks program today.”

Free services for job seekers include career coach assistance to assess abilities and interests, develop career and skills training plans and provide ongoing retention support. Access to support services for trainees will include assistance with transportation, child care, counseling services, as well as basic skills and adult education referrals.

Although the first classes began recently, job seekers can register for future classes. A list of service providers and affiliated agencies to provide a range of services on behalf of the Tollway are listed on this page.

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