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updated: 1/29/2020 8:51 AM

Illinois Works program aims to help address construction labor shortage

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  • The state of Illinois is putting $25 million into programs that will bring more people into the construction industry.

    The state of Illinois is putting $25 million into programs that will bring more people into the construction industry.
    AP file photo

 
The Center Square

The state of Illinois has committed $25 million to programs that bring more people into the construction industry.

The average construction worker in Illinois is approaching age 50. That's coming at a time when the development market is booming, leading contractors and labor unions to worry there will soon be too much work and not enough people to do it.

"In Illinois, we really need more programs that will bring more people into the construction trades," said Roger Huebner, executive vice president of the Central Illinois Builders of AGC.

The organization has worked in the state since 1955. The primary purpose of the organization is to serve contractors in labor-management issues. Today, its mission has expanded to include advocacy at the statehouse and across the state. Huebner said Illinois has strong apprenticeship programs that turn out qualified, skilled workers. The state is not involved in the system.

"The process is funded by contractors working in cooperation with the unions," he said.

However, there aren't enough people entering the field to replace those who retire or to keep up with growing demand. Through the Illinois Works program, the state set aside $25 million to create pre-apprenticeship programs. These community-based programs will help people explore the construction trades and decide if the field could be right for them and it provides a way for people to more easily transition into the workforce as a skilled laborer.

Huebner said it was a historic step by the state.

"It's one of the first times the state has financially set up a program to kind of help with a pre-apprenticeship program," he said.

Having the state money will help lift some of the burden off of private companies and labor unions when it comes to workforce development. Huebner said the program is already having an impact across the state.