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Thursday, July 1, 2010 10:02 pm

Putting Illinois to work

Preparing workers for permanent jobs


Rob Hoskins, middle, and Theodore Steen, right, were both hired on as regular Springfield Park District employees after they went through the state's economic stimulus program Put Illinois to Work. Mark Miller, left, trained them both as they worked on l

No one can help you if you don’t help yourself, says Springfield resident Theodore Steen when he explains his recent success in Put Illinois to Work, a subsidized jobs program through which 225 workers have been placed with 37 Sangamon County employers.

Under the Put Illinois to Work (PIW) program, workers deemed eligible based on age or low-income standards earn $10 per hour, pay provided by the state and federal government, for up to six months. Employers, in turn, provide at least 30 hours of work each week as well as skills training, which workers can use to find another job or, if the employer offers, to continue working as a regular, unsubsidized employee after the program ends.

Statewide, PIW has placed about 14,700 trainees with more than 3,400 nonprofit, business and government employers. Nearly 61,000 Illinoisans had applied for the program as of late June.

So far, Steen and his new coworker, Rob Hoskins, are two of 25 PIW trainees across the state whose temporary positions are now unsubsidized permanent jobs. Their hard work and positive attitudes as temporary employees with the Springfield Park District made them good candidates for two of four full-time seasonal positions that opened up just a few weeks after the program began, says Mark Miller, the park district employee who supervises Steen, Hoskins and a handful of other PIW workers.

“I told myself from the beginning I’d give it my all,” Steen says, calling PIW a “stepping stone” for being able to fully provide for his family. “I took a chance with this and I stayed focused, kept my head up, kept my faith and also, we all know that patience is a virtue.”

Under Miller’s supervision at Edwin Watts Southwind Park, PIW trainees are learning to work with plants and about the tools needed to put them in the ground. For some participants, Miller says, the program is largely about developing a work ethic and a professional demeanor that will help them secure other jobs when the program ends.

“With this program … out here, if you try and you listen, you’re going to be successful,” Miller says. “Maybe you can’t get hired on at the park district, but you’re sure going to have enough job skills to get hired on with a landscape company or garden center.”

Hoskins, already trained in the landscaping business, says his success through PIW was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and taking full advantage of the opportunity.

“I knew it was up to me to make the impression with the park district to get on with them,” Hoskins says. Both he and Steen credit Miller and the Springfield Urban League, where they heard about the program, for helping them along the way.

But not everyone is pleased about the program’s existence. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2050 president Brian Schroeder represents park district employees and says PIW is “eroding” the bargaining unit by using subsidized workers instead of union labor. The park district in April announced layoffs of 27 full-time employees. “They’re squeezing us out of jobs,” Schroeder says.

PIW and similar programs in more than 30 other states­ are scheduled to end Sept. 30, but Congress is now considering whether to extend funding through 2011.

To pay for the current program, Illinois plans to spend $10 million from the General Revenue Fund and $215 million of its overall $292.5 million federal allotment from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act welfare fund. Illinois’ remaining federal funds will go toward a summer food program for low-income youth and a summer youth employment program.

Contact Rachel Wells at rwells@illinoistimes.com

Putting Illinois to Work in Sangamon County

According to the Illinois Department of Human Services, the following businesses in Sangamon County had accepted the listed number of Put Illinois to Work trainees as of June 29, 2010:

  • Abundant Faith Ministry 11
  • Action Development Corporation d/b/a Aaron's 3
  • Boys and Girls Club of Central Illinois 33
  • Cast Industries Inc. 3
  • Clean as a Whistle! LLC 2
  • Computer Banc 1
  • Flawless Kutz Corporation 3
  • Habitat for Humanity of Sangamon County 6
  • Illini Waterproofing, LLC 3
  • Illinois Association for the Education of Young Children 1
  • Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault 1
  • Illinois Prisoner Review board 9
  • Illinois State Fair Museum Foundation 3
  • Inner City Mission 1
  • Land of Lincoln Goodwill Industries, Inc. 1
  • Little Angels Child Care Center 5
  • Lost Bridge Restuarants LLC d.b.a IHOP 3
  • Madison Park Place 4
  • Mrs. Misty's Daycare 1
  • Nazarova Development 6
  • Poplar Place Townhomes 5
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Illinois 2
  • Shay's Home Daycare 2
  • Springfield Housing Authority 7
  • Springfield Park District 15
  • Springfield Urban League, Inc. 50
  • St. John's Breadline 5
  • St. John's Hospital 3
  • TJ Maxx 1
  • Tower of Refuge, Inc. 4
  • Tubman/Anthony Center 9
  • United Way of Central Illinois 1
  • Victory Through Praise Child Care Development 2
  • YMCA of Springfield 8

The state stopped taking applications in late June due to an overwhelming response from potential employees.

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