A member of Chicago Women in Trades. | Courtesy Chicago Women in Trades/Facebook

North Lawndale’s Safer Foundation, East Garfield Park’s Revolution Workshop and Chicago Women and Trades, which is located on the Near West Side, were among the 23 Illinois organizations that received $9.6 million in state grants to fund pre-apprenticeship programs for women and people of color interested in getting into the construction industry. 

The three West Side organizations have programs to help minorities in the city who belong to a demographic that is underrepresented in the construction industry and/or faces barriers to employment in the industry. 

The grant is part of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Illinois Works program, which seeks to address long-standing gender and racial disparities in the construction industry while increasing the number of people who can work on projects funded through the Rebuild Illinois capital bill. The program is expected to allow around 1,000 Illinois residents, most of them from Chicago, to qualify for construction apprenticeships. 

According to a 2020 Illinois Department of Labor report, only 4% of Illinois construction apprentices are women and only 29% are people of color. The Illinois Works program was created to address this disparity through several grant programs. 

Construction Pre-apprenticeship Program issues grants help cover the costs of programs that train “underrepresented populations in the construction and building trades” with programs that specifically prepare them for public works projects. 

The training will give the participants the skills and experience they would need to get into apprenticeship programs, which are required in order for anyone to become a trade professional. The program also includes help with getting apprenticeships. Illinois Works accepted the first round of applications in 2021.

“Participants of the program will attend tuition-free and receive a stipend and other supportive services to help overcome systemic barriers to entering the construction industry,” according to the Illinois Works website. 

“By supporting pre-apprenticeship training programs that primarily serve [women and people of color] – while also providing the needed wraparound support for participants to succeed – these grants will help participants break barriers to enter into apprenticeships while simultaneously creating a sustainable pipeline of qualified, diverse candidates for the future economy.”

Safer Foundation, which received $500,000, helps formerly incarcerated residents find steady, stable work and rebuild their lives. While it’s currently headquartered in the Loop and has several facilities throughout Illinois and Iowa, it has a notable presence in North Lawndale, providing services at 2839 W Fillmore St and 800 S. Kedzie Ave. Safer Foundation has several job training programs, including training for carpenters, electricians and construction project managers.  

Revolution Workshop, 3410 W. Lake St., got $400,777. According to its website, it was founded in 2017 by “skilled trade employers and workforce development leaders” to train youth and adults from under-served communities, with particular emphasis on Black youth, in construction and woodworking. 

Aside from addressing racial disparities, the founders wanted to address the fact that the trade workforce is shrinking and aging, even as the demand for construction increases. In addition to providing the training, Revolution Workshop pays for trainees’ transportation costs. 

Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), 2444 W. 16th St., got $500,437. The organization makes sure that women who want to work in manufacturing and building trades get access to information, training and job opportunities. In a statement, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity officials said CWIT will use the grant to launch a brand-new pre-apprenticeship program that is expected to help up to 50 tradeswomen.

Austin Weekly News reached out to Safer Foundation and Revolution Workshop for comment, but did not receive responses by deadline. 

In a statement to the media, Jayne Velinga, CWIT’s executive director, touted the grants as “a unique moment for the advancement of women and people of color” who work in trades. 

“Chicago Women in Trades applauds the state’s timely investment in pre-apprenticeship training and contractor incentives to build the diversity of Illinois’ well-paid construction workforce,” she said. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker stated that the program will help create “nearly 1,000 pre-apprenticeships” that will give participants skills they can use to “earn family-sustaining wages and succeed in the jobs of tomorrow.” 

“My administration is committed to supporting workforce training programs that are equitable and accessible for all Illinois residents, regardless of their background or what neighborhood they call home,” he said. 

For more information about this and other Illinois Works grants, visit the website here.

Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Austin Weekly News since 2015. His work has also appeared...