Vocational Training Programs to Consider

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Recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits are eligible to participate in many state and federal employment and vocational training opportunities. Vocational training is any educational course or program designed to prepare students for employment in a specific career, field or industry. A search for vocational training programs in the state of Illinois alone yields over 300 results. Willing workers can find programs to train them for careers in nursing, commercial driving, counselling, teaching, social work, public administration, business and commerce and technical trades, among others. Interested parties should make sure that the vocational program they are interested in is approved by SNAP in order to meet its requirements. Finding such programs may be the easy part, however. Paying for vocational training could be the tougher challenge, although help meeting this challenge is available. The U.S. and Illinois governments both offer several programs to help residents pay for vocational training within the state.

Private Business and Vocational Schools

The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) defines a Private Business and Vocational School (PBVS) as an entity that offers any courses and/or programs of study in the state of Illinois that are designed to prepare students for a particular occupation, profession, trade or vocation, or that enhances, adds to, or improves a person’s abilities and skills related to career and occupational opportunities. The IBHE maintains a directory of PBVS institutions approved by the state. PBVS institutions that have received state approval must post their Certificate of Approval from the IBHE at the educational site for public viewing, listing the exact courses and/or programs the school has been approved to provide.

Youth in College/Vocational Training Program

The Illinois Division of Children and Family Services (DCFS) offers a Youth in College/Vocational Training Program (YIC) created for youth between 16 and 20 years of age who are living under court ordered DCFS care. The program provides monthly grants for qualifying youth to attend an accredited community college, four-year college or vocational school. Participating students must abide by strict guidelines, including reporting class schedules and grades to DCFS, maintaining at least a ‘C’ average and applying for financial aid each year of study. The program also provides reimbursement for textbooks that financial aid does not cover, a one-time grant can be issued to help students get set up and get access to education advisors. Certain costs are not covered by the program, including tuition, room and board and school supplies.

Education and Training Vouchers

The Illinois DCFS also offers a number of vouchers per year to apply toward education and vocational training expenses. Those eligible to receive these vouchers are youth either in DCFS care or who exited care at 18 years of age or older. Youth who went in guardianship or were adopted at 16 years of age or older are also eligible to receive these vouchers. As with the YIC, recipients of these vouchers must attend an accredited program and apply annually for financial aid.

Community College Payment Program

While this DCFS program specifically benefits Illinois community college students, those enrolled in vocational training that is incorporated into a community college’s curriculum can also submit payment requests. Payments through this program can be applied toward books, fees and tuition for in-district schools.

Vocational Rehabilitation

The Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) offers help for people with disabilities looking for or retaining employment. Concentrations of the program include ensuring quality employment for its participants that includes offering opportunities for advancement and paying a living wage. Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) services are available to people considered of working age (between 16 and 64 years of age) who possess a significant mental or physical impairment that impedes on their abilities to work. The program includes career counseling and support in finding and maintaining a job. Included among DHSs VR services are several smaller programs catering to specific groups and needs:

  • Transition Program and STEP Program – helping disabled high school students to plan for life after graduation.
  • Work Incentive Planning and Assistance Program – helping SSDI and SSI recipients to understand how employment will influence their benefits.
  • Supported Employment Program (SEP) – helping those with major disabilities who wish to work but require regular support services in order to do so.

In addition to general VR services, specialized services are available for Latinos and Hispanics with disabilities, the blind and visually impaired and the deaf and hard of hearing.

On the federal level, Ticket to Work is a program that provides beneficiaries of Social Security Disability access to vocational rehabilitation support services.

The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)

Along with Illinois’ vocational rehabilitation program is a federal vocational rehabilitation program designed exclusively for honorably discharged veterans and administered by the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA). The MGIB offers eligible veterans up to 36 months of benefits for vocational training costs or other qualifying educational expenses. An additional program for veterans seeking vocational training assistance is the Post Vietnam Era Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program.

Apprenticeship Information Center Program (AID)

In addition to these vocational training programs, Illinois also offers its residents apprenticeship opportunities through the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) Apprenticeship Information Center Program (AID) in conjunction with a federal program called the Apprenticeship USA Initiative. These offer additional vocational training opportunities sponsored directly by individual and joint employers, employer associations and labor groups. Willing workers can also find assistance locating the best vocational training programs for them through any of the 96 American Job Centers located throughout the state of Illinois. Some even have business representatives and/or veterans’ representatives on hand to help serve career training and job finding needs specific to those groups or interests.