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

Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), a Near West Side-based nonprofit that helps women get jobs in the building trades, is using $500,437 in state grant funding to expand its pre-apprenticeship programs and it’s actively trying to recruit West Side women to the first weekday pre-apprenticeship session, which kicks off on Feb. 14. 

Pre-apprenticeship programs give the participants the skills and experience they would need to get into apprenticeship programs. The programs are required in order for them to become full-fledged tradespeople. 

On Jan. 13, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity gave $9.6 million in grants to 23 Illinois organizations to either set up or expand pre-apprenticeship programs in order to try to get more women and people of color into the industry. North Lawndale’s Safer Foundation and East Garfield Park’s Revolution Workshop received the grants, as well. 

The new daytime pre-apprenticeship 10-week training session will take place every Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Trainees will get a stipend to help offset the money they spend fueling up their cars and buying lunches. Once they complete the program, CWIT will pay their application fees and help them pay for the tools they need for their apprenticeships. The application deadline is Feb. 9.

As part of the Rebuilt Illinois capital bill, the Department of Commerce and Economic opportunity launched the Illinois Works program to expand the labor pool of qualified tradespeople while addressing long-running disparities in the industry. 

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 Construction Pre-apprenticeship Program is one of several Illinois Works grant programs designed to address this disparity. 

Sharon Latson, CWIT’s director of marketing and communications, saiid all CWIT apprenticeship programs are free. She said the organization is looking for women who live  on the South and West Sides to apply, because they don’t usually get a lot of applications from those parts of Chicago. Although the program is open to women of all races, they would like to see more women of color apply.

Applicants need to be at least 18 years old, have a valid driver’s license and a social security number. They also need to bring proof of income, not because income has any bearing on the application, but because reporting trainees’ income is one of the grant requirements. Since apprenticeship programs require participants to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, CWIT is requiring proof of vaccination, as well.

Latson encouraged potential applicants to consider the possibilities the program will open up.

“It’s life-changing,” she said. “They can make $19 an hour working for Amazon and Whole Foods, but [you get] pension plans and healthcare benefits when you’re a union tradesperson. That’s about building a career, that’s the advantage for women working in trades. 

They may start in the apprenticeship making $18 to 19 an hour, but by the time they finish the program, they can make $40 an hour, $50 an hour or even $60 an hour, depending on the trade.” 

To apply and find out more about the program, visit https://cwit.org/

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...