A new Illinois law is aimed at introducing students for a possible career in the trades.
Male caucasian handyman in uniform and tool belt, hammering the siding on the 2nd story window of a Cape Cod style house.

The Illinois Manufacturers’ Association is applauding a new law that allows students to be introduced to technical education at an earlier age.

The law expands career and technical education in Illinois schools and supporters say it will help students better understand their career pathway options as early as the sixth grade.

“It requires districts to implement a specific career exploration pathway, but it creates an incredible opportunity for students to have more access to career exploration opportunities,” said Sarah Hartwick, vice president of education and workforce policy and head of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association Education Foundation. “By expanding career and technical education in schools across our state, students will better understand their career pathways at an earlier age, preparing them for long-term success at school, in their careers and in life.”

Supporters point to five students at Ridgewood High School who earned the College and Career Pathways Endorsement in manufacturing. All received job offers upon graduation.

Hartwick said although there has been a recent uptick in interest in career technical education courses, some school districts have eliminated CTE courses.

A recent report by a state task force showed Illinois has experienced a hollowing out of middle-class jobs and a polarized labor market due to an economic shift away from manufacturing. The group wrote Illinois could lose more middle-wage jobs over the next decade.

The IMA, the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce said they were disappointed by the report, saying the process was “deeply flawed.”

The career technical pathway legislation will be implemented in Illinois schools this fall.

“[House Bill 3296] builds from the 2016 Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness Act and many years of dedicated work by communities statewide to develop and implement high-quality college and career pathways systems that ensure students are prepared for whatever comes after high school,” said Education Systems Center Executive Director and founder Jonathan Furr.