The Illinois Senate and House passed a bill that could encourage more African Americans to take part in apprenticeship programs in the construction industry.
The Diversity in Construction Apprenticeship Programs, or Senate Bill 534, was passed by Illinois congressional leaders on May 29, 2019, and sent to Gov. Pritzker the following day. The governor is expected to sign the bill within the coming weeks.
Sponsoring the bill is Illinois State Senator Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) who hopes the bill will combat what he says are institutional disadvantages for African Americans as well as the lack of talent needed for the amount of construction work available.
“Diversity in Construction Apprenticeship Programs will build the skills of African Americans, providing a springboard to higher paying positions,” says Sen. Jones.
Senate Bill 534 was first filed by Illinois State Senator John J. Cullerton (D-Chicago) on January 31, 2019. The legislation would create the Bureau on Apprenticeship Programs in the Illinois Department of Labor. The program would be comprised of an advisory board made up of 12 legislators with the hope of encouraging African Americans to find roles in the construction industry.
After watching the bill pass both houses, Sen. Jones wrote a letter urging Gov. Pritzker to sign the legislation.
“I want to make sure that African Americans have equal access to these programs so that they can earn a more suitable living wage,” says Sen. Jones. “Most importantly, I hope this will be the beginning of changing the stigma of minorities being viewed mainly as low-income workers”
According to a study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 6% of all employed African Americans work in the construction industry. Compare that to the 12% of whites and 14% of Hispanics working in the industry and the disparity becomes clear.
According to Sen. Jones, the apprenticeship programs can help close this gap while providing a boon to the industry as a whole.
“Increased diversity benefits both the employer and the employee,” says Sen. Jones. “The construction industry is facing a skilled labor shortage, and recruiting African American workers could help alleviate it.”
About 6 million people currently comprise Illinois’ total workforce. Throughout the state, there are about 16,000 active apprenticeships across 13 industries. However, the numbers only tell part of the story.
In fact, the unemployment rate for African Americans in Illinois is higher than that of any other state in the country, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Current Population Survey.
“Nobody’s been left behind more than African American workers, and Illinois has done about the worst when it comes to creating economic opportunities and employment opportunities for African Americans,” University of Illinois Labor Education Professor Robert Bruno said to NPR.
Sen. Jones wants to change that and provide more opportunities to some of Illinois’ most disadvantaged citizens.
“Like in many other areas of society, minorities are underrepresented in apprenticeship programs,” Sen. Jones says. “Apprenticeship provides a springboard to good jobs, and we must ensure everyone has equal access to these opportunities.”