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A 'win-win-win': ICC shares results of Workforce Equity Initiative

State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth (right) speaks at Thursday's press conference at Illinois Central College with an update on the Workforce Equity Initiative as President Sheila Quirk-Bailey looks on.
Collin Schopp
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, right, speaks at Thursday's news conference at Illinois Central College, giving an update on the Workforce Equity Initiative, as president Sheila Quirk-Bailey looks on.

The Workforce Equity Initiative helps get students of color and in poverty credentialed in fields like welding, nursing and trucking. The program started at Illinois Central College two years ago, and since then there have been almost 500 students in the program, with a 60% completion rate.

Of the students who complete the program, around 70% find a job.

“Earning those credentials changes the life of those individuals, it also changes their family’s lives,” said ICC president Sheila Quirk-Bailey. “All while expanding the workforce, growing our businesses and making our regional economy more vibrant. This is a win-win-win.”

The statewide program provides grants to community colleges across Illinois offering the service, with at least 60% of participants being African American. In addition to the credentials, the program also helps students with access to services like childcare, transportation, and energy and rental assistance.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, said these “wrap-around” services are vital to the program.

“It was one of the primary issues that I saw when I was working at ICC,” said Gordon-Booth. “I saw people that were good students that were hard working, they weren’t lazy, life circumstances will just knock them on their butt.”

Gordon-Booth called the program not just an aid to people in poverty, but an investment in them.

“We’re putting people in a position to not only leave poverty, but they’re leaving that social service safety net and they’re now giving back into it,” said Gordon-Booth. “I mean, what an amazing concept to see that investment that we’re making.”

At a news conference on Thursday to highlight the results of the program so far, one of the students shared their experience. O’Shaunessy Boyd completed a certification in computer numerical control, or programming machines that cut and process material; she now works for Caterpillar.

“They allowed me to finish school. Because I have kids, of course, so the time schedule and working at the same time wouldn’t work for me,” said Boyd. “So when I finished school, I started at Caterpillar two days later. This was one of the best opportunities that I’ve taken advantage of in my life.”

Boyd said she’s recommended the program to friends and family.

There are 18 colleges statewide that are part of the initiative, including Heartland Community College in Normal. The program there started last year and has almost 150 students. President Keith Cornille said some of those students have already earned certifications and found jobs.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.