IT Workforce Accelerator Program: A Catalyst for Career Growth in Central Illinois

Woodruff Career & Technical Center (WCTC) students are getting a head start on their careers, thanks in part to a collaborative effort between Bradley University, Illinois Central College, and Eureka College. This consortium, supported through a $14 million federal Good Job Challenge Grant, is one of only 32 recipients nationwide. Together they launched the IT Workforce Accelerator Project, aiming to bolster the IT job market in Central Illinois. The initiative seeks to provide no-cost training to credential and place over 1,000 learners in high-quality IT jobs by May 2025.

Bradley received $1.9 million of the grant, which is being utilized to offer credentials in healthcare IT, computer programming, and various youth talent pipeline programs, including the Braves Summer STEM Academy, and Math for the Mechanical Trades, a pilot course taught at WCTC by Bradley faculty member Sheryl Davis, who also serves as the director of Bradley’s Math Success Center.

Her collaboration with the West Central Building Trades informed the curriculum, ensuring it meets the necessary math skills for union acceptance. The success of the pilot at Woodruff serves as a foundation for an online version of the Math for Mechanical Trades course developed by Davis. Math Tech 1 will be available to the community and high schools within the IT Workforce Accelerator service area in August 2024.

"The Math Tech 1 course offers an invaluable opportunity for individuals seeking to enhance their math skills, empowering them to transition successfully into a trades career," remarked Davis. "Being involved in such a transformative educational experience is truly rewarding, as it opens doors to new possibilities and professional growth."

WCTC offers a unique educational structure, where students spend half their day at their high school and 2.5 hours in the afternoon at the Tech Center. The Math for the Mechanical Trades course, integrated into this schedule, has seen remarkable success. Initially anticipated to enroll 15 students, the program attracted 64 participants. Of these, 20 seniors who successfully complete the course will graduate with automatic acceptance into the union, six months of union credit, and an immediate pay raise.

The third annual Signing Day on May 8, celebrated those students who completed internships and are joining the workforce. Six of those students completed the Math for the Mechanical Trades course, with one of them achieving notable stature as the first woman and first black woman sprinkler fitter in Illinois. These students have secured positions with various employers, including Dream Center Peoria, PJ Hoerr, Alcast Company, Pipco Companies, Electrical Union, and Construction Union.

This innovative program not only equips students with essential skills but also establishes a sustainable workforce ecosystem in Central Illinois, bridging the gap between education and high-quality employment opportunities.

Libby Derry