IWIB Newsletter
Issue 2 2021
"Why I IWIB"
Victor Dixon Journey to IWIB
Illinois Workforce Innovation Board (IWIB) member Victor Dickson pursues his passion for lifting up the downtrodden in our society as the President and CEO of Safer Foundation, an international leader in Community Corrections and community-based re-entry programs and services. Dickson was born and raised in Illinois, where he attended public schools before graduating from Roosevelt University in Chicago. He and Talese, his wife of 30 years, have four adult children. He came to the role after spending a career in the corporate world. Victor spent 20 years in the disruptive, technology-driven telecommunications industry at one point leading an organization of 3,500 technology professionals throughout the U.S. and its territories.

When he departed that industry, it was for a selfless calling, as Chief Operating Officer for a global ministry conducting relief efforts in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, Haiti, India, South Africa, and Guatemala. He has been at the helm of Safer Foundation for the last eight years while serving as an integral member of IWIB and an advocate for the returning citizens his organization serves. “I gravitated to Safer Foundation because of the fact that having a criminal record relegates over 70 million people in the United States to a second-class citizenship,” says Dickson. “Our society has erected enormous barriers to people with records fully participating in our society and economy. Focusing on eliminating barriers and creating opportunities for this population may be the most direct path to lifting up the underclass of our nation.”

There are 4.2 million people in Illinois with arrest or conviction records, and Safer Foundation serves this population that is so vital to the state and country reaching something approaching full employment while optimizing the capacity of business interests to meet product demand. Safer Foundation serves about 5,000 people in Illinois and Iowa each year, integrating workforce training, employability skills, financial literacy, and life skills into a program that aims to fully prepare them for life during and after re-entry.

Victor’s interest in IWIB is an extension of his belief in the restorative power of justice, voiced by Safer Foundation’s slogan, “Everyone Deserves a Second Chance.”
“Members of the population we serve are disproportionately poor and have lower educational achievement and skill development,” said Dickson. “The IWIB is a critical opportunity for Safer Foundation to represent people in our state who desperately need employment and training opportunities.”

The IWIB’s function and ability to leverage critical federal and state workforce resources uniquely position it to have the agency needed to change the lives of those seeking their second chance, according to Dickson, who urges the board to invest itself more deeply in promoting this underutilized resource as a solution for businesses desperate for productive employees. “The IWIB may be the most important agency with the ability to impact what happens with training and employment,” he said. “We have been grateful for the board’s efforts over the years to prioritize this population and ensure that this large segment of our state population is addressed. I am hopeful that the IWIB will dive deeper into the issue of criminal records and see how this issue impacts our communities, including the success of our employers in getting the talent they need to thrive.”
Equity Task Force IWIB
Introduction to Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones
In honor of Black History Month 2021, we would like to salute one of our newest leaders to our IWIB committees, Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones.  Dr. Bly-Jones alongside IWIB member, Elba Aranda-Suh, Co-Chairs the new IWIB Equity Task Force.
Dr. Lisa M. Bly-Jones is the Executive Director of the local workforce board serving Boone, Stephenson, and Winnebago Counties in Northern Illinois. She is responsible for the overall leadership and implementation of workforce development initiatives, including strategies and tactics in the Illinois Northern Stateline Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Regional Plan.
In previous roles, she had oversight of Workforce Development, Community Education, and Continuing Education divisions on community college campuses in Illinois and Tennessee. She led numerous national and local workforce programs for private funders and federally funded projects that offered occupational training, leading to employment.
Prior to her work in community colleges, she was the Chief Professional Officer (CPO) of the South-Southwest Suburban United Way where she was responsible for merging and restructuring a regional organization. Utilizing strategic planning, board management, community outreach, and building strategic business alliances, she successfully increased the annual giving campaign every year and allocated funds to health and human service agencies in diverse communities throughout the suburban cook county region.
She has over 20 years of experience in training and development and shares her expertise at national and state conferences, facilitates round-table discussions, town hall meetings, and teaches courses and workshops for large and small groups.
Her educational background includes an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership with Stewardship, Leadership & Learning as a concentration from the University of St. Francis, an M.A. in Communications and Training, and a B.A. in Media Communications from Governors State University, and an A.A. from Moraine Valley Community College.
Most recently, Dr. Bly-Jones was selected to serve as the Midwest regional liaison for the National Association of Workforce Boards (NAWB) to advance workforce development policy and programs at the local, state, and federal levels. Additionally, she was invited to serve on NAWB’s task force to improve racial equity in the Workforce System. Nominated by her peers, she is the Illinois Workforce Partnership (IWP) Vice President. She co-chairs the Illinois Workforce Innovation Board (IWIB) Equity Taskforce, is Vice President of the Chicago Jobs Council board, and a member of the Regional 1 Planning Council (R1PC).
Dr. Bly-Jones is humbled and inspired by what she accomplishes with others. She integrates her workforce development expertise with her community college campus experience and applies a lens of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging to advocate and empower individuals to change the trajectory of their lives. 
Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones is excited to use her experience to co-lead the Equity Task Force, in response to Executive Order No. 3, with Elba Aranda-Suh. Established in 2020, the Equity Task Force is charged with reviewing data, policies, and programs across the State’s workforce development system to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to engage regardless of funding source, geography, participant identification, or workforce service need. Making work “work” for everyone is critical to the success of our State and our citizens. Through the Equity Task Force, we engage with local and national experts to identify opportunities to open doors, invite participation and enhance outcomes across every region and every group. 
"In workforce development, we've always been a champion for equity. When career planners work with individuals and co-create employment plans for a person's future and coach them to success based on the person's unique set of circumstances, that's equity. I'm honored to co-chair the Equity Taskforce with my colleague and fellow practitioner Elba Aranda-Suh because we know the numerous benefits that come from having an intentional strategy and execution of plans related to this work." – Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones
The next meeting of the Equity Task Force is on Wednesday, April 28 from 8:30-10:00 am.
Apprenticeship Navigators
Apprenticeship Navigators Begin to Take Root in Illinois
The key strategy being employed by the Apprenticeship Illinois Committee of the Illinois Workforce Innovation Board (IWIB) is to expand apprenticeship programs in the state is the development of a network of Navigators and Intermediaries. Navigators are primarily the business-facing side of the equation. They conduct outreach to businesses across all employment sectors to bust myths and promote the advantages in retention and productivity associated with the apprenticeship job education model.

Long the province of organized labor and the building trades, apprenticeships have become an increasingly popular and promoted workforce development tool, backed by funding from the federal Department of Labor. Here in Illinois, the Apprenticeship Illinois Committee has used funding from a federal apprenticeship expansion grant to seed projects in local workforce areas, community colleges, and other workforce development areas across the state that utilize the framework of Navigators promoting apprenticeships to businesses while complimentary intermediaries recruit and educate the workforce. An initial goal is to place at least one Navigator in each of the state’s nine economic development areas. There are currently six active Navigators from as far south as Little Egypt to as far north as Chicago and its suburbs.

As a small group with limited peers, the Illinois Navigators have learned to lean on one another. They meet via Zoom on the first Monday of each month to discuss best practices, talk about success stories and apprenticeship programs in development, and discuss legislation and pending legislation that affects apprenticeship. In carrying out their work, the Navigators will use the concept of Talent Pipeline Management (TPM) developed by the United States Chamber of Commerce Foundation. In a general sense, TPM relies on sector partnerships between employers to assess the demand and plan for the supply of a reliable stream of qualified employees to their highest-need positions.

The Illinois Navigators have completed a six-week Orientation to TPM training. Navigators serve as conveners of sector partnerships and facilitate the development of demand-planning tools. Navigators who have not been certified through the U. S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation will complete the formal training in the fourth quarter of 2021. The orientation training laid the foundation for Navigators to begin discussions with associations, industries, and education partners to address regional talent needs.

Using state and local data, Navigators identify similar industries to join a sector-based discussion of common challenges like unfilled positions, retention rates, internal advancement, and increasing diversity in the talent pool. Industry partners develop an action plan and share it with regional education partners as a decision tool around questions of existing curricula, expansion of programs, or customized education for specific sectors. An expansion of apprenticeship opportunities is a likely benefit of those discussions.
CAP-IT Grant
Apprenticeship Program Provides Funding to 10 Community College Districts
The Customized Apprenticeship Programming in Information Technology grant is providing apprenticeship opportunities in Information Technology to Illinoisans across 10 community college districts (City Colleges of Chicago, College of Lake County, Illinois Central College, Joliet Junior College, Kishwaukee College, Lincoln Land Community College, Oakton Community College, Parkland College, Rend Lake College, and Richland Community College). Apprenticeship is an employer-driven, “earn while you learn” model that combines structured on-the-job training with high-quality related technical instruction that prepares an apprentice for long-term employment in a specific occupation. Funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) Scaling Apprenticeship Sector Strategies Grant, the ICCB received close to $4 million to serve at least 1728 students and place over 800 apprentices. The focus on Information Technology was driven by the growing skills gap in Illinois for IT occupations. To add, within the next five years, the need will grow more than 11.9%. The program prepares students for occupations in Networking, Cybersecurity, Software Development, and Technical Support (Help Desk). Students participating in the program can participate in credit programming earning college certificates or an associate degree and may earn a variety of industry-recognized credentials and certifications such as CompTIA A+, Google IT, Linux+. 

What makes this apprenticeship model unique is its focus on recruiting those underserved by traditional apprenticeship programming, including low-skilled adults and adults without a high school diploma. The program model includes multiple entry points, including through pre-apprenticeship bridge and integrated education and training. Both accelerate students through the pathway, so that they may earn a postsecondary credential and transition into an apprenticeship program or directly into employment. The program also seeks expanding apprenticeship opportunities for veterans, individuals with disabilities, and students of color. With support from the Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support and Jobs for the Future, the colleges have fine-tuned their programming and built employer networks, hosting virtual employer roundtables for Information Technology in the fall of 2020. To date, 442 of students have participated in either the pre-apprenticeship or apprenticeship program serving over 30 employers. For more information on the CAP-IT program, please visit: https://www.iccb.org/cap-it/.
Workforce Equity Initiative
Expanding workforce development training for minority students living in at-risk communities in Illinois
Seventeen community colleges across the state of Illinois are working to improve equity outcomes in employment through the Workforce Equity Initiative (WEI) grant program that has awarded more than $18 million for each of the past two years to promote the expedited career and technical education and career placement of African Americans and other racial minorities.

Participating colleges are College of Lake County, Illinois Central College, Joliet Junior College, Kaskaskia College, Kennedy-King College, Lincoln Land Community College, Malcolm X College, Olive-Harvey College, Parkland College, Prairie State College, Richard J. Daley College, Richland Community College, Rock Valley College, South Suburban College, Southwestern Illinois College (serving our East St. Louis area), Triton College, and Wilbur Wright College.

Too many African Americans in communities across Illinois are being left behind when it comes to workforce training and opportunities to earn a living wage. The Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Underrepresented Report noted that across all minority groups in 2019, minority Career and Technical Education (CTE) program graduates accounted for 37% of completers. Among these, only 12% were African Americans.

The Workforce Equity Initiative is an innovative partnership between the ICCB, the 17 participating community colleges, and the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus to create or expand skills gap training for minority students in at-risk communities.

Community colleges who successfully applied for the grant funding are responsible for enrolling racially minoritized students into a career and technical certificate and degree programs that lead, in less than a year’s time, to wages at least 30 percent above what is considered a “living wage” in their respective geographic regions. Alternatively, students can be placed on a career pathway that will lead to a family-sustaining wage in the future.

According to the terms of the grant, at least 60 percent of grant-funded students must be African American, and target populations are those from “Disproportionately Impacted Areas.”

A key component of the program is to remove barriers from students’ potential for academic and career success. That means providing a menu of support services beyond free tuition, books, and fees. Essential employability skills training is embedded into each of the individual programs, with some colleges providing a stipend to students who successfully complete the so-called “soft skills” course. Additionally, colleges are utilizing WEI funds to help participants with items like childcare, transportation, tutoring services, financial literacy, and other life skills that are essential to their completion and placement. At the same time, students are placed in high-demand occupational programs that help businesses meet the demand for skilled labor and drive economic development in key employment sectors.

This is the second year for the program, which proved exceedingly popular in its rollout during Fiscal 2020. Among the outcomes from the programs first year:

  • 9,325 applications received for the WEI programs
  • 2,837 students enrolled
  • 2,187 African American students (77% of total participants)
  • 1,189 students completed their programs
  • 722 students are employed
The application process is competitive, but there is a level of collegiality in the program not often seen between community colleges. The group of colleges who are funded by the grant meets regularly to discuss and compare best practices, to celebrate successes, and mitigate failures. Mentoring and cross-collaboration are critical to the overall, systemic success of the program.

Student Success in CTE
The Student Success in Career and Technical Education (CTE) compendium was developed by the Illinois Center for Specialized Professional Support (ICSPS) in coordination with the Illinois Community College Board to highlight the benefits and opportunities provided through community college CTE programs in Illinois. The stories provide a student perspective on how CTE programs prepare them for the workforce and support them through a career pathway. Below is a glimpse of one student who found success through the partnership of WIOA and CTE. The full compendium can be found here. This work was supported in whole by the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act.
CTE Success Story
A Layoff Leads to a Dream Career
As a child with a father in the United States Air Force, Gary Wood had long dreamed of a career in the aviation field. Gary had to put his dream aside when he was diagnosed with color blindness, but years later he would turn a layoff into a career in aviation.

Gary was a membership coordinator for a health club when he was unexpectedly laid off. Working through the local unemployment office, Gary connected with Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) which enabled him to go back to school to pursue credentials for a career in aviation. Gary entered the Aviation Mechanics program at Lincoln Land Community College (LLCC) in Springfield, Illinois – the only aviation mechanics program in central Illinois. The program at LLCC offers training in Aviation Mechanics, Airframe Technician, Powerplant Technician, and Aviation Management. Programs begin twice a year (in January and August) and can be completed in as little as 18 months. Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) technicians maintain and troubleshoot the complex systems that an aircraft contains – turbine and piston engines, electrical systems, hydraulics, pneumatics, sheet metal, communication, navigation, cooling exhaust, and more. They help keep the world moving and travelers safe.

Gary loved the LLCC Aviation program and appreciated the hands-on training in the labs as well as the support he received from his instructors. Gary earned an associate in applied science degree in Aviation Mechanics as well as certification as an aviation airframe technician and an aviation powerplant technician. After finishing the program, he felt prepared to take advantage of the better job opportunities and increased income his new career would offer. Opportunities look bright for the aviation mechanics field. The International Air Transportation Association estimates that the industry will need to train and hire some 420,000 additional mechanics by 2026 and reports a median annual wage for aircraft mechanics and service technicians at over $70,000.

It wasn’t long after graduation that Gary began his career at West Star Aviation. Currently, he is employed with the Air National Guard in Springfield, Illinois where he works on jet engines in the turbine engine shop. Gary enjoys working for the Air National Guard because he is supporting the country in its national defense. With help from WIOA and LLCC, Gary was able to turn the crisis of being laid off into a lifetime career he loves. Gary said, “I am grateful for my second chance that turned my life around.”
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Our mission: To celebrate the accomplishments of the workforce system and its clients, both employers, and job-seekers.
Our vision: To share ideas, best practices, and to fully actualize the federal and state workforce resources in order to promote economic development and transition targeted populations into meaningful careers.
Our goal: To highlight each local workforce area in Illinois and the unique regional approaches they take to workforce development, to shine a light on each business member of IWIB and contextualize their reasons for serving in this volunteer capacity, and to lift up the many inspiring stories from around the state of job seekers leveraging the workforce system.
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