Employ Central Illinois: $3M Grant to Forge Career Pathways and Apprenticeships

February 15, 2024

A group of 7 regional partners led by Illinois Central College received an over $3 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s Perkins Innovation and Modernization (PIM) Career Connected High Schools Grant Program. The partners include Illini Bluffs High School, Pekin High School, Peoria Public Schools, the Peoria Regional Office of Education, SkillsUSA Illinois, the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Unions and Illinois Central College.

“Employ Central Illinois will be a game changer for this region. We are thrilled to collaborate with these amazing educational and employment partners. We will build new pathways to good jobs for high schoolers, meeting both student and employer needs.

Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, President of ICC

These partners will form a consortium to align work-based learning experiences and dual credit with 3 post-secondary options for paid apprenticeships. The consortium will develop a regional ecosystem to provide high school students in urban, suburban, and rural settings equal, centralized access to high-quality dual credit courses and work-based experiences along career pathways in health care, construction, manufacturing and information technology professions and connect them post-graduation to paid apprenticeships.

The three apprenticeship options include regional Labor Unions Apprenticeships through the West Central Illinois Building and Construction Trades Unions, Direct to Employer Apprenticeships through SkillsUSA Illinois and ICC Apprenticeships providing both a post-secondary credential and employment during and after college.

This game-changing project will integrate earn-and-learn opportunities through a Regional Work-Based Learning HUB providing employers a one-stop shop to engage students in internships, pre-apprenticeships and job shadowing while in high school and apprenticeships post-high school graduation.

Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey, President of ICC, said, “the pathways we are creating will lead a diverse range of students to high-demand, high-wage careers that will make a difference in their lives while growing the workforce and combating the growing trend of recent high school graduates doing nothing to advance their skills or opportunities post-high school graduation.”

The Peoria Regional Office of Education will act as the neutral third party to house the HUB and maintain the regional program once launched. Peoria County Regional Superintendent Beth Crider shared, “Our region has worked on college and career readiness aligned to the Illinois Postsecondary and Career Expectations (PaCE) framework for over a decade. One struggle has been the siloed efforts of school districts working with businesses, the skilled trades and our local post-secondary partners. Building a regional hub approach with this grant is an exciting opportunity to collaborate to get this done more efficiently. Any time we can remove constraints, it is a big win for our students.”

Once this model has demonstrated its effectiveness over three years, ICC hopes to renew the grant for another two years to scale the ecosystem across additional Central Illinois high schools to improve career-based learning opportunities and change the trajectory of their students’ lives.

“We believe that the Employ Illinois initiative is a transformative opportunity for our students, preparing them not only academically but also equipping them with practical skills and industry-certified credentials that will empower their future success,” said Dimitri Almasi, Principal of Illini Bluffs High School. “As we embark on this exciting journey, we extend our gratitude to the U.S. Department of Education for their support and look forward to witnessing the positive impact this initiative will have on the lives of our students.”

“Employ Central Illinois marks the pivotal step in uniting the remarkable efforts under way in our region. By consolidating these strong workforce partners into a single, unified initiative, we’re addressing a crucial gap. SkillsUSA is excited to collaborate as one of these partners, setting a model for similar efforts across the state,” said Eric Hill, Executive Director of SkillsUSA Illinois.

Jennifer Anderson, Pekin Community High School College (PCHS) and Career Advisor, commented, “We look forward to working with our partners to expand on our already robust career and technical education pathways. We will be excited to be able to offer industry-recognized credentials, early college credit, apprenticeship and post-secondary opportunities through this collaboration. The future is bright for our PCHS students.”

Out of 161 PIM grant applications, only sixteen proposals were funded. ICC is one of only two community colleges nationwide to receive a PIM grant.