Jill Biden visits Chicago area to tout career pathway programs

First lady Jill Biden visited the Chicago area Monday to kick off National Apprenticeship Week and tout programs aimed at creating more equitable pathways to high-paying jobs.

Speaking at the Aon Center in Chicago, Biden said investing in apprenticeship programs is a key focus for the administration to jump-start the economy. She highlighted how registered apprenticeship programs and community colleges can launch jobs, particularly for job seekers in underrepresented communities, toward in-demand corporate careers such as technology, finance, insurance and banking.

Biden was joined by three members of the president’s cabinet, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona.

Greg Case, CEO of Aon, from left, U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh, first lady Jill Biden and Terionna Wilson, a reinsurance apprentice at Aon, attend an event to kick off National Apprenticeship Week and discuss Biden administration efforts to expand training and apprenticeship programs on Nov. 14, 2022.

“Joe knows that this pipeline of support from high school, to community college, to career is the future of our workforce, and that’s why we’re here today,” she said.

The trip comes amid several high-profile layoffs in the tech industry in recent days and ongoing worries that the U.S. could see more job cuts if the country enters a recession, though last week’s inflation report gave some reason to be optimistic. Thursday’s report showed consumer prices rose 7.7% in October compared with a year ago, down from a peak of 9.1% in June.

Federal Reserve Vice Chair Lael Brainard said during a discussion at Bloomberg Monday that she was encouraged by the report and expected the Fed to slow its pace of rate increases.

In her Monday visit to the Aon Center, Biden addressed a crowd of hundreds, including members of the Chicago Apprentice Network and Business Roundtable, recalling her husband’s upbringing in Scranton, Pennsylvania, saying the struggles his own family faced has further motivated him to create stronger career pathways.

“The resilience and strength that Joe learned watching his father put his shoulders back and rebuild their lives in a new city,” she said. “His dad used to say, ‘A job is more than a paycheck.’”

She emphasized the administration’s efforts to expand career-connected learning opportunities. “We have an opportunity to make some real, bipartisan progress, building pathways that work for all students,” she said.

In September, the Biden administration launched the Apprenticeship Ambassador Initiative, a national network of more than 200 employers and industry organizations, labor organizations, educators, workforce intermediaries and community-based organizations focused on strengthening and diversifying registered apprenticeships. Its inaugural group of “apprenticeship ambassadors” included the Chicago Apprentice Network’s co-founders, Aon, Zurich North America and Accenture.

During Monday’s event, Terionna Wilson, reinsurance apprentice at Aon, shared her experience growing up on the West Side of Chicago as one of six children. Struggling to stay afloat in her past job, she applied to Aon’s program in 2021 after seeing her sister’s success in an apprenticeship. She is now earning her associate degree in business at Harold Washington College while learning on the job at Aon, earning an income and full benefits in the process.

“I truly couldn’t feel more stable and blessed,” she said. “The apprenticeship program not only changed my life, but my family’s as well.”

First lady Jill Biden reaches out to hug Terionna Wilson, a reinsurance apprentice at Aon, following her speech about the importance of the apprenticeship program for her and her family on Nov. 14, 2022, in Chicago.

Before her visit to the Aon Center, Biden stopped by District 214′s Rolling Meadows High School to meet with students in the school’s Career Pathways program.

Career Pathways, which Career and Technical Education Division head David Wietrzak said began 12 years ago with two offerings in health and manufacturing, now offers 16 different tracks to students hoping to go into fields ranging from marketing to tourism and hospitality.

Biden said the program at District 214 exemplified “part of Joe’s vision” for the future of the country’s economy.

“Not everybody needs to have a four-year degree — this is all about jobs,” she said.

Raimondo said having more students trained in engineering and manufacturing would be important as the Department of Commerce worked to implement the CHIPS Act, touted as a way to boost semiconductor research and manufacturing in the U.S.

“I’m glad you’re getting ready, because we’ve got a lot of jobs coming your way,” she told district officials and students.

First lady Jill Biden steers a robot while robotics students Ethan Salibio and Kaitlyn De Loncker watch at Rolling Meadows High School on Nov. 14, 2022, in Rolling Meadows.

Biden and other visiting officials put some of the young engineers’ skills to the test, with Biden, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Cardona taking turns operating a robot made by Rolling Meadows senior Ethan Salibio.

Career access and technical education programs are gaining momentum across the northwest suburbs, particularly those geared toward special education students.

Last week, officials from Maryville Academy’s Jen School broke ground on a new, 56,000-square-foot facility focused on career and technical education for up to 120 special education students in Niles.

It’s a major expansion for the school, which Principal Ann Craig said has been operating out of an 18,000-square-foot space in its current Des Plaines facility.

In nearby District 219, the Bridges Adult Training Center recently received a $40,000 grant from Target Corp. to create a job-training lab for special education students ages 18-22.

The Associated Press contributed.

Source : https://www.chicagotribune.com/politics/ct-flotus-visit-career-pathways-apprentice-network-20221115-g52ki6wvb5dshdjegpq5rnb4se-story.html#ed=rss_www.chicagotribune.com/arcio/rss/category/news/

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