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WNIJ's summary of news items around our state.

Illinois Government And Colleges Team Up To Get Unemployed People Back To Work

Chase Cavanaugh
Job seekers make use of computers at the Illinois workNet center in DeKalb.

Unemployment can happen to anyone, and state government and colleges have resources to help those who are looking to increase skills while they are between jobs. 

The state's latest jobs numbers indicate that unemployment was at 4.7% in February. However, this rate was higher in many of the state's metro areas. The highest was Kankakee, at 6.7%, followed by Rockford at 6.4. 

Illinois Department of Employment Security spokesman Bob Gough says jobless people can sign up for unemployment insurance to stay afloat.

"You also have to, of course, be looking for work, available for work, and ready for work during that period," he said. "You have to check in regularly online, call in, in order to ensure that you are indeed out there trying to find work while you're out."

This state program provides benefits for up to 26 weeks. Gough says people stay on the program for an average 16 weeks. To link these people with jobs, IDES runs regional employment centers. Here, clients can submit their resumes, get advice on what fields to pursue, and attend hiring events by local companies.

Gough says this is "where employers across the state have had 25-30 openings, and they'll have 75-80 people show up. It's been a real good response."

Materials available for job seekers at DeKalb's workNet Center.

Some centers are operated with money from the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act or WIOA. This 2014 federal law set up a governing structure for these "American Job Centers" across the country.

Billi Tierney directs Kishwaukee College Workforce Education and Development, which partners with a center in DeKalb. She explains the state's version of these offices, called Illinois workNet Centers:

"Title I, which is adult, dislocated worker, and the youth program, which is administered by the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity in the State of Illinois. At the Illinois workNet center, we actually service adult and dislocated workers."

But finding job openings is only part of this support network. Education also has a role in workforce development. Diana Robinson is the Director of Northern Illinois University's Center For Governmental Studies. She says linking people with jobs is about finding the best opportunities.

"Preparing people for good jobs with careers that will support a household or a family and then ensuring there are jobs out there that we can help put those people in," she said.

Robinson says educating workers takes two forms. The first is imparting skills used in a position or economic sector. This is often handled by partnerships with the employers themselves. The second is a more generalized set of knowledge, which is especially important for younger workers.

"Knowing how to dress and how to work in teams and how to be punctual," she said. "We call them employability skills or soft skills. But it also means just getting a sense of what a particular occupation might be like."

Developing these soft skills is important in recent graduates and those about to enter the workforce. But Robinson says it isn't that different with more experienced job seekers.

"With older learners, you are often addressing issues around literacy or numeracy or work ethic so I think ultimately it boils down to what are the needs of the individual learner, no matter where they are on the age range," she said.

Community colleges often work directly with the workNet Centers for both types of education. In fact, Tierney says another component of WIOA directly addresses adult education.

"Do you have a good resume to get together? Do you have good interviewing skills? We're going to provide soft skills training so that you can be successful in the workplace," she said.

But sometimes, even after all these skills are taught, a job applicant still might not be marketable in the workplace. Tierney says this is where workNet's more direct training services come in.

"Our program, if somebody is eligible, if they meet all the criteria that we have through the federal government, then we can assist up to $10,000 for them to go back to school," she said.

Recipients can choose which two or four-year institution they attend. But the training has to go toward a job in what's considered a high-growth industry on a statewide list. Examples include health care, transportation, and information technology.

Unemployment insurance, state job centers, and education are all available for the jobless to expedite their return to wage-earning status. More specialized programs also exist, such as aid for former inmates. But Robinson says these programs aren't just for the unemployed. Furthermore, she says it's important to always consider self-improvement.

"Everyone needs to take an active interest in what's happening in the economy and be thinking more proactively about, if you were an employer what would you be looking for, and prepare yourself to meet those objectives." 

You can find more information about job training and career events at illinoisworknet.com.