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U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) meets with a group at the National Able Network's IT Career Lab in the West Loop.

Durbin: Successful back-to-work programs beat back 'stereotypes' and need more investment

by James Arkin
Feb 19, 2014


During a visit to National Able Network's IT Career Lab, Sen. Durbin said

“If you listen to these stories, these folks are not lazy people. They have college degrees and can’t find work. And they are back in school trying to find a job." 

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) asked a class of 13 at the National Able Network’s IT Career Lab how many of them were unemployed?

Every hand went up.

Durbin then asked how many had a college education — more than half the hands went up.

They were just some of the students working toward certification at the IT Career Lab in the West Loop. Durbin visited the center Wednesday to meet with National Able Network President and CEO Grace Jenkins and lab students.

“If you listen to these stories, these folks are not lazy people,” Durbin said. “They have college degrees and can’t find work. And they are back in school trying to find a job. And I need to talk to people like this, I need to hear these stories so when the debate breaks out in the Senate floor, I can refer to reality.”

The 14-week program provides students with multiple certifications in IT training, preparing them for jobs in technology. The program started more than a year ago, and Jenkins said it has been steadily growing. She said the yearly forecast, from July 1, 2013 through June of 2014, was for 150 students.

“To the extent there’s demand, we’ll keep increasing it,” Jenkins said.

The program costs $6,500. Some pay for it out-of-pocket, but Jenkins said many pay for the program with grants through the GI Bill or the Workforce Investment Act.

Durbin said the WIA is due for reauthorization, and he hopes it can be done this year. He said visiting places like the IT Career Lab helps him “beat back stereotypes” that there are too many government job training programs and that they don’t work.

“That’s all baloney,” Durbin said. “As was described to me by Grace here, yeah, there are a lot of programs, but there are a lot of different people coming through the door: elderly, veterans, young people. They’re different and we want to make sure we steer them into the best opportunity for them.”

Karen Butkiewicz, who is long-term unemployed and has been in the program since October, said she hopes it will help “open up opportunities” in her job search. She said when she woke up this morning, she didn’t expect to be talking to a senator about it.

“I really appreciate that he’s taking the time out and also getting our opinion of how we feel,” Butkiewicz said.

Jenkins said it’s important having legislators like Durbin, Senate majority whip, visit the program and talk to students firsthand.

“There’s really no substitute for having somebody at his level walk in, sit down with students and talk to them,” she said. “It gives him enormous credibility and he does walk out of here knowing what he’s talking about.”