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Workforce Readiness through Apprenticeships and Pathways (WRAP)

Youth unemployment in Illinois in 2016 was 14.2%, far more than double that of the entire labor force at 5.9%. Further, too many of the high school seniors in Illinois' public and private high schools (of which there were 160,000 in 2015) are not aware of the vast number of career options available to them, nor are they prepared adequately to fill the jobs they want or the jobs that are needed in the economy. Moreover, in 2015, Illinois had an estimated 184,000 youth between 18 and 24 who were out of work and out of school. The under-preparation, and subsequent disconnection, of young Illinoisans crates additional costs to society through unemployment insurance, healthcare subsidies, and other public benefit supports.

Based on this need, the Governor's Cabinet on Children and Youth has prioritized the Workforce Readiness Through Apprenticeship and Pathways project as one of their three inaugural projects. The team, led by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), aims to ensure that all Illinois young people reach adulthood having completed workforce readiness programs that prepare them for college and career, while equipping them with the information they need to choose the best career pathway for themselves.

Project Goals

When this project was chosen by the Governor's Cabinet in 2016, the objective was to use apprenticeships, a work-based, "earn and learn" model, as a strategy to connect youth between the ages of 16 and 24 to career opportunities.

As the project progressed, the Governor requested that all Illinois youth be afforded the opportunity to be equipped for the workforce and postsecondary school, acknowledging that apprenticeship is just one strategy within a career pathway framework. Therefore, the project expanded from "Apprenticeship Plus" to "Workforce Readiness through Apprenticeships and Pathways" (WRAP) and adopted a broader vision:

All Illinois young people reach adulthood having completed workforce readiness programs that prepare them for college and career, while equipping them with the information they need to choose the best career pathway for themselves.

The WRAP project team has begun integrating several college and career readiness initiatives across multiple agencies into its career pathways framework to build a cohesive system that links initiatives in support of the expanded vision. The team's goals are:

1.      Develop state infrastructure to support career pathways and associated work based learning opportunities

2.      Define expectations for "prepared for college and career"

3.       Identification and standardization of career pathway information

4.       Develop quality metrics to identify promising practices and ensure continuous improvement

5.      Work with the Illinois Workforce Innovation Board (IWIB) to engage businesses in career pathways

6.      Inform and engage Illinoisans in career pathways and associated work-based learning opportunities

In its effort to connect, streamline, and amplify existing work in Illinois, the WRAP team is leveraging high-priority strategic planning initiatives across the state as building blocks to create a cohesive career pathways system that reconnects, prepares, and informs youth in Illinois for their futures. Such initiatives include:

1.      Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan

2.      Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act

3.      Illinois Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) Unified State Plan

4.      Illinois Community College Board (ICCB) Workforce Education Strategic Plan

5.      Career Outcomes for Illinois High School Seniors

Project Accomplishments

ESSA College and Career Readiness Indicator (CCRI)

As part of the school quality framework within the ESSA Plan, ISBE included a College and Career Readiness Indicator (CCRI). This is a multiple measures approach to assessing student readiness, including a variety of Career Ready factors that incorporate career pathways strategies and work-based learning. The WRAP project team provided valuable input into the definition development process for these Career Ready indicators, ensuring their alignment to broader career pathways and the PWR Act. The CCRI has been formally finalized by ISBE and will begin to be reported by schools in the 2018-19 school year, providing valuable data on how young people are preparing to enter postsecondary and the workforce.

Postsecondary & Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act: Competency Based High School Pilots & College and Career Pathway Endorsements

The Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness (PWR) Act, passed unanimously by both legislative houses and signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner in 2016, provides a policy framework for four strategies to better align the transition from high school into college and careers. All four of the strategies within the PWR Act place learners at the center of efforts to support their preparation for college and career, and require coordinated and aligned community systems involving school districts, postsecondary education providers, employers, and other public and private organizations.

The WRAP project team has played a key facilitation role for cross-agency collaboration on implementation of two strategies in particular: competency-based high school graduation requirements pilot programs, and College and Career Pathway Endorsements (CCPE) on high school diplomas.

Competency-Based Education: There are currently 15 pilot sites across the State for competency-based graduation requirements. Participating districts study national best practices, build relationships, find points of connection, and move their pilots from vision to action. ISBE will open up the pilot application process annually.

College & Career Pathway Endorsements (CCPE) on High School Diplomas: The CCPE framework demonstrates students' readiness for college and careers and completion of instruction and professional learning experiences in a selected career interest area. ISBE, ICCB, IBHE, ISAC, DCEO, and IDES are working together to implement a comprehensive interagency plan for supporting the development of the College and Career Pathway Endorsement programs. WRAP committee members will also adopt the professional competencies developed through the public-private committee process.

Improving Readiness for Postsecondary – Early College Credit Expansion

Dual credit impacts college readiness, leads to higher first year postsecondary GPAs, higher completion rates, and a greater accumulation of college credits overall. It also decreases time to degree and lowers college costs for students. To maintain quality of offerings but expand access for motivated high school students, the ICCB relaxed its rules around student grade level to allow academically-qualified students to participate in dual credit offerings. The ICCB is also working with the public university system to enhance teacher credentialing options that will lead to a growth in dual credit in areas where qualified faculty are often difficult to find.

Expanding Apprenticeship Opportunities – Apprenticeship Plus

Over the course of 2017, DCEO led several WRAP strategies to expand apprenticeship opportunities. In addition to investing roughly $2.3 million from DCEO's statewide activity funds in nine youth apprenticeship pilots that served up to 304 youth, DCEO supported the convening of roundtables for two primary stakeholder groups: business and industry, as well as youth and their service providers. As a result of the work with youth and supporting staff, Young Invincibles released a report: Making Youth Apprenticeships Work for Illinois' Young Adults.

Understanding what the system is producing – Career Outcomes Analysis

The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) has developed a data infrastructure to support three different projects that help connect data to assess outcomes for individuals completing a variety of education and training programs in a range of key career clusters in Illinois. These tools enable researchers and practitioners to utilize these connected data to make better decisions around policies and practices that can support the WRAP vision of young people being better prepared and informed for making their postsecondary and career choices.

Unifying Cross-Agency Work – Career Pathways Definition

Agencies involved with the development of WRAP have actively collaborated to collectively define language used in order to better guide development and implementation of aligned initiatives. In particular, a unified Career Pathways definition was formally adopted by the following agencies: IBHE, ICCB, DCEO, ISBE, Illinois P-20 Council, and the IWIB. ISAC will also be adopting the definition in 2018.

Project Team

The WRAP project is led by the Illinois Department of Commerce and
Economic Opportunity and includes members from the following eleven agencies:

  • Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)
  • Department of Human Services (DHS)
  • Department of Juvenile Justices (DJJ)
  • Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE)
  • Illinois Community College Board (ICCB)
  • Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES)
  • Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC)
  • Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE)
  • Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities (ICDD)
  • Illinois Department of Information Technology (DoIT)
  • Illinois Guardianship and Advocacy Commission (IGAC)
  • Illinois P-20 Council College and Career Readiness Committee (CCR)

In addition, the following organizations are assisting this effort as part of the working team, developing the project plan and owning some of its implementation:

Project Metrics

Project metrics for WRAP are under construction.