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How Peoria's higher ed institutions plan to train up 1,000 new IT professionals over the next 3 years

Tim Shelley
Bradley University president Stephen Standifird speaks at a joint press conference with Illinois Central College and Eureka College to announce plans to construct an IT workforce pipeline with $15 million in U.S. EDA grant funds awarded to ICC.

The Peoria area's three major institutions of higher learning are embarking on a major initiative to train up more than 1,000 skilled information technology workers over the next three years.

Illinois Central College, Bradley University, Eureka College, and 40 community companies and nonprofits are partnering to use a $15 million Good Jobs Challenge Grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to build an IT workforce credential pipeline.

"The IT field continues to be a critical industry with growing workforce needs," said ICC President Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey. "And this effort will not only help to meet those needs for Illinois businesses, but also give hundreds of individuals greater opportunity to earn higher wages in a short period of time."

The ICC-led proposal was one of 32 out of more than 500 applicants selected by the U.S. EDA, and one of just two community college programs funded.

Quirk-Bailey said the initiative places particular focus on removing barriers through wraparound services for people impacted by poverty and participants of color. She said the scope of the program stretches from dual-credit high school courses all the way through advanced post-baccalaureate training for current IT workers.

Eureka College will use $2.6 million in grant funds towards cybersecurity workforce development.

Tim Shelley
Eureka College President Dr. Jamel Wright

"We want to continue our forward progress toward the goal of at least 60% of our community having a needed post secondary credential in hand and being able to earn above a living wage," said Eureka College President Dr. Jamel Wright.

Bradley University plans to use its roughly $2 million in sub-award grant funds to create microcredential courses in IT healthcare, math, technology trades and programming, as well as junior and senior high school STEM camps for underserved communities.

Bradley University President Stephen Standifird said some of the money will be used to create a "one-button" recording studio in Westlake Hall, and a community laptop loan program for learners upgrading their skills in microcredential programs. He said the grant money also covers the cost of industry certification testing fees.

Greater Peoria Economic Development Council CEO Chris Setti said a skilled workforce is a prerequisite needed to grow jobs and businesses.

"It's something like this, this sort of initiative, that we can actually sell as a region to companies that aren't here that understand that we have an a pipeline of talent that we are building, too," Setti said. "Because when companies think about investment decisions, they don't just think about what's available today, but what will be available in a generation."

That's a sentiment Jesse Alexander, chief revenue officer for IT company DYOPATH, agrees with.

"I'm glad that we can be part of this as the business that's gonna say yes, that's going to hire, because we're looking to hire new people. We're looking to upskill new people," he said.

Quirk-Bailey said the highest demand in IT jobs is for employees skilled in specific programming languages, cybersecurity, networking, and web development. Peoria's burgeoning health care industry also has a great need for IT workers, she said.

She said ICC, Bradley, and Eureka will be working with their other partners to get the training program fully up-and-running over the next several months, but she and Standifird said the work has already begun. Wright said she's confident things are headed in the right direction.

"Over the next several months, and definitely by the spring semester, we'll be ready to rock and roll really with getting some of the other infrastructure in place that we need," said Wright.

For more information, call (309) 657-1949.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.