Impacting Careers: Past, Present and Future

by Steve Martin
Career Link

There is a time when it seems agencies or businesses are getting noticed or receiving credit for what they do to make, as the May issue of iBi stated, a “Community Impact.” For all of the assistance Career Link has provided this region over the years, I believe it is time to toot our own horn—not only to tout past achievements, but to make the people and businesses of central Illinois aware of the services we offer, and the relationships that still need to be cultivated.

I have been with Career Link for more than 25 years. I started as a summer youth counselor, coordinating a robust program that employed over 300 boys and girls in Tazewell, Mason, Fulton and McLean counties. That was when the law we administered was known as the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) and our agency was the United Private Industry Council (UPIC).

In 1998, JTPA was amended by Congress and the Workforce Investment Act was introduced. I then worked as a case manager, performance manager and assistant director under the new agency name, Career Link, and I have been executive director of the agency since 2012. In 2014, two major changes took place. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) replaced the Workforce Investment Act, and Career Link was asked to merge and administer the WIOA grant for the eight counties we now serve: Fulton, Marshall, Mason, McLean, Peoria, Stark, Tazewell and Woodford.

Leading the Charge
Since 1982 our youth, adult and dislocated (or laid-off) worker programs have provided funding, guidance and support for thousands of individuals who trained in high-demand occupations, entered employment with a self-sufficient wage, and went on to maintain a successful way of life. We have exceeded our federal performance goals every year, with success rates ranging from 85 to 92 percent.

Career Link has successfully initiated and administered in-school programs providing assistance to at-risk youth to increase the chance that they graduate and pursue employment and/or training after high school. Low-income older youth and adults receiving food stamps and cash assistance have achieved their dreams over the years by training for high-demand occupations. Many times, our case managers (myself included) have walked into a hospital and been thanked by a former program participant who successfully worked their way off government assistance to become a Registered Nurse.

When major layoffs or business closures hit the area, Career Link has been the leader in providing and coordinating rapid-response workshops. Partnerships with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Illinois Department of Employment Services (IDES), Illinois Central College, Spoon River College and Heartland Community College have provided vital resources to many workers who needed immediate access to services. Many laid-off workers have successfully retrained and found work in high-demand occupations, allowing them to sustain their way of life, pay their bills and provide for their families.

A One-Stop Center
Career Link administers three funding streams—for youth, adult and dislocated workers—which totaled $7.2 million in Program Year 2017. We have eight offices, one in each county. The Peoria office is the site of the new Illinois workNet Center, a proud partner of the American Job Center Network.

At 406 Elm Street in downtown Peoria, Career Link has co-located with IDES to create a One-Stop Center to serve the needs of Peoria and the surrounding communities. Seventeen agencies fall under its roof, and access to all of their services can be provided through the One Stop. In addition, affiliate offices in the other counties can provide access to all partner-agency services, including: Adult Education and Literacy (ICC, Spoon River and Heartland colleges); IDES – Wagner-Peyser; Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) – Rehabilitation Services; DHS – TANF; IDES Unemployment Services; Perkins Secondary Career and Technical Education; Job Counseling, Training, and Placement for Veterans; IDES Trade Readjustment Assistance; Trade Adjustment Assistance; IDES Migrant & Seasonal Farmworkers; Illinois Migrant Council; Community Service Block Grants (Peoria Citizens Committee for Economic Opportunity, Tazwood Community Services, Mid Central Community Action); and Senior Community Services Employment Programs (Central Illinois Agency on Aging, National Able Network).

Over the past two years, Career Link has initiated and led the many initiatives necessary to be compliant under WIOA law, and there is still quite a bit of work underway. Cross-training among the agencies takes place this fall, and new signage will emerge along Jefferson Street. A new One Stop website is currently under construction, and the local workforce board has appointed a manager to oversee operations. Business representatives from Career Link are partnering with IDES, DCEO and the EDCs to form a regional Business Service team.

Searching for Employers
The Business Service team will prove very important over the next year. One of the main goals of the WIOA is to promote and initiate work-based learning opportunities with area employers that need qualified job applicants. It is important that we hear from the employers to identify the jobs they have available and the associated qualifications. Additionally, employers have made it very clear that many applicants need soft-skills training, in addition to technical training.

The WIOA—and the agencies across our state and country that administer the act—are promoting pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship models based on the European model. These programs are designed by employers and government-funded. I believe the concept could prove very successful in supplying a pipeline of qualified candidates to a range of high-demand industry sectors and employers. Funding is now available to initiate career pathway opportunities, but there is one major piece missing: companies and employers willing to sponsor and invest their time into developing quality programs.

All grants from the government require extremely detailed oversight, monitoring and reporting; Congress and the taxpayers need to know what the program costs and whether or not it works. That is the responsibility of Career Link and other WIOA-administering agencies, along with providing case management and support services. Participating companies would assist in developing curriculum, on-the-job training, industry-recognized credentials and full-time employment upon successful completion. Area colleges would be included to provide credential training, and employers would be responsible for completing timesheets and monthly progress reports for the participants. Fifty to 70 percent of participant wages during training would be covered by the grant, saving employers money.

We are currently partnering with four youth apprenticeship grants in our eight-county area, but only one has a definite employer sponsoring and hiring successful candidates. The other grants are still searching for employers; they will not be successful if there is no employer participation. I have heard it shouted from employers in all major industry sectors: There are no qualified applicants. Career Link, our area colleges and other partner agencies in central Illinois are here and willing to help. We embrace the opportunity to discuss this program with you. The time is now! iBi

Steve Martin is the executive director of Career Link. For more information, visit careerlink16.com.

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