CHICAGO – Reinforcing his Opportunity Returns pledge to create quality jobs in Northeast Illinois, Gov. Rod Blagojevich today announced almost $3.6 million in funding to meet urgent employment needs in the greater Chicagoland workforce. Through the Governor’s Critical Skills Shortage Initiative, the grants will be specifically used to support the health care industry, one of the most significant economic engines of the region that employs more than 400,000 workers. Gov. Blagojevich highlighted the nursing shortage during his State of the State address in February, and the innovative program remains a vital component of his Opportunity Returns strategy to build a more dynamic and highly skilled workforce by strengthening education and job training. Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Director Jack Lavin spoke about the announcement today during a speech at the City Club of Chicago.
“Northeast Illinois has one of the most diverse, broad and skilled workforces in the nation, and, through the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative, we were able to evaluate our region’s specific needs. To ensure that this region has the workforce we need for today and tomorrow, we know that we must invest heavily in the health care field,” Gov. Blagojevich said. “These workforce investments reaffirm the value we place on health care in this region and in Illinois. This industry not only improves our collective physical health, but also enhances our state’s economic health by creating quality jobs in a range of areas.”
Through a $2.6 million grant, hundreds of health professionals will enter the workforce or upgrade the skills of existing workers and meet vital employment gaps that are projected within the next two years. An additional 444 registered nurses (RNs), 119 licensed practical nurses (LPNs), 166 medical records cluster workers, 84 technicians/technologists, and 10 therapists are anticipated to enter or be retained in the regional workforce. Public-private sector programs will be funded throughout the region to meet this goal including: expanded educational programming capacity for ongoing education and upgrading of skills; support services to allow nursing students to successfully complete their programs and gain their licenses; training to help employees cope with workplace stress to reduce employee turnover; career counseling to promote advancement in the field; and occupational training for medical records, technicians and technologists programs.
Additionally, nearly $945,000 will be given as Healthcare Innovation Grants where community colleges in the Northeast region will develop and test innovative teaching models that will increase access and improve the success of non-traditional nursing students. Pilot programs will explore new approaches such as bridge programs that will advance reading and math skills and provide English as a Second Language courses so more students will be successful at completing nursing programs.
“Gov. Blagojevich has proven to be a strong proponent of health care investments to ensure our region maintains the quality care that our population demands. In this instance, there were projected shortages of health care workers in Northeast Illinois, and, through the Governor’s support, we’re able to team health care professionals with educators to meet that need,” said John Vrba, Administrator at HCR Manor in Hinsdale.
“The Critical Skills Shortage Initiative will bridge the gap that was projected in health care employment. In coming years, we’ll see so many nurses retire, which could leave hospitals and clinics short-handed. But Gov. Blagojevich is taking a proactive approach to helping to fill these positions so this doesn’t become a crisis,” said Sister Sheila Lyne, CEO at Mercy Medical Center in Chicago.
“Illinois’ community colleges are at the forefront of developing new technologies to make it easier for both traditional and non-traditional students to achieve their career goals and get ahead. In this instance, we’re working to increase the supply of nurses in the Northeast region and across the state. These students can thank our innovative and hard working faculty and administrators at our state’s community colleges, as well as Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns program,” Geoffrey Obrzut, President and CEO of the Illinois Community Colleges Board.
In August of 2004, Gov. Blagojevich launched the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative in Northeast Illinois. Stakeholders from throughout the region, including the local Workforce Boards, area employers, economic development professionals, educators and service providers, used a $1.5 million Opportunity Returns planning grant to identify industry sectors, and specific occupations within those sectors, where there are current or projected shortages of skilled workers. Under the leadership of the Workforce Boards of Metropolitan Chicago, the regional consortium projected worker shortages in a range of specific fields within the health care industry, and they developed an action plan to meet that need.
"Through these grants, Gov. Blagojevich is being proactive in his efforts to create a dynamic workforce to meet the future needs of Illinois. In my district, Malcolm X College, one of the City Colleges of Chicago, has partnered with Stroger Hospital to boost the skills of their current workers so they can qualify for unfilled nursing positions," said State Senator Rickey Hendon (D-Chicago). "This project is part of a larger partnership with the City Colleges, including Mt. Sinai, located in my district, and University of Chicago Hospitals, located in the district of my new colleague, State Senator Kwame Raoul."
"The health care industry is such an important driver of the economy, not just in Chicago, but also in Will County. To meet these critical needs, we must do all we can to increase the skills of our current workers. At Provena St. Joseph Medical Center and Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet, Gov. Blagojevich is doing just that by investing in career advancement programs," said State Senator A.J. Wilhelmi (D-Joliet). "We're not only supporting the hospitals, but also the workers who can advance their skills and the patients who depend on nurses every day."
"Workforce investments are sound public policy because they advance the skills of our workers and support Illinois’ businesses. Gov. Blagojevich's Opportunity Returns strategy is about meeting the needs of business, while providing workers the means to reach their full professional potential. Through the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative, we're making important strides at achieving both goals; these grants address the critical shortage of health care workers throughout the State of Illinois," said State Representative Larry McKeon (D-Chicago).
"It's alarming to learn that hospitals are struggling to fill these front-line health care positions, but it's reassuring that Gov. Blagojevich is taking the initiative to meet these employment gaps. The work being done in my district by Instituto del Progreso Latino, is a powerful example of this effort. In that program, the skills of Certified Nursing Assistants are being upgraded so they can qualify as Licensed Practical Nurses, leading to increased salary and professional satisfaction for program participants," said State Representative Cynthia Soto (D-Chicago).
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is administering the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative (CSSI). Workforce Boards of Metropolitan Chicago is also working with DCEO to coordinate other funding sources that can be used regionally to help implement the CSSI health care solutions more comprehensively and to further strengthen the pipeline of workers for these high-skill, high-wage positions that are critical to the region's economy. In addition, DCEO administers other workforce programs that might help in fulfilling regional needs, including the Employer Training Investment Program and the Eliminate the Digital Divide Program.
“We know that investments in our workforce are investments in our future because this is seed money to increase the human capital of the Illinois workforce. Through Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns strategy, we’re building bridges between leaders in the public and private sectors to meet projected employer needs,” DCEO Director Jack Lavin said. “Even though Illinois has one of the best and most productive workforces in the country, employers can feel confident knowing that the Blagojevich administration is proactively filling projected employment gaps to meet any industry’s need.”
The Northeast region includes ten counties and the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative combines the knowledge and resources of countless partners throughout Northeastern Illinois including:
Healthcare Partners - Advocate Health Care, Advocate South Suburban Hospital, Cook County Bureau of Health Services, Good Shepard Hospital, Mercy Medical Center, Morris Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital, Northwest Community Hospital, Provena St. Joseph’s Hospital, Resurrection Healthcare, Riverside HealthCare, St. James Hospital, St. Alexius Medical Center, Sherman Hospital and Silver Cross Hospital.
Education and Training Partners - Association House, Business and Career Services, City Colleges of Chicago, College of DuPage, College of Lake County, DuPage County Workforce Development, Elgin Community College, Harper College, Humbolt Park Vocational Education Center, Illinois Community Colleges Board, Instituto del Progreso Latino, Joliet Junior College, Kankakee Community College, Lake County Workforce Development, Mayor's Office of Workforce Development, McHenry County College, McHenry County Job Training, Oakton Community College, Over the Rainbow, Prairie State College, Proviso Leyden Council for Community Agency, Inc., South Suburban College, Southland Health Care Forum, Triton College, Waubonsee Community College, West Cook Healthcare Workforce Consortium, Workforce Development, Inc., and Workforce Services Division of Will County.
The Workforce Boards of Metropolitan Chicago - Lake County Workforce Investment Board, McHenry County Workforce Investment Board, River Valley Workforce Investment Board, DuPage Workforce Board, Cook County Workforce Investment Board, The Workforce Board of Northern Cook County, Chicago Workforce Board, Workforce Investment Board of Will County, and Grundy Livingston Kankakee Workforce Board.
Gov. Blagojevich’s Opportunity Returns regional economic development strategy is the most aggressive, comprehensive approach to creating jobs in Illinois’ history. Since a one-size-fits-all approach to economic development just doesn’t work, the Governor has divided the state into 10 regions – each with a regional team that is empowered and expected to rapidly respond to opportunities and challenges. Opportunity Returns is about tangible, specific actions to make each region more accessible, more marketable, more entrepreneurial and more attractive to businesses. It is about upgrading the skills of the local workforce, increasing the access to capital, opening new markets, improving infrastructure, and creating and retaining jobs. Opportunity Returns is about successfully partnering with companies and communities, both large and small, to help all of Illinois reach its economic potential.