PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Three Central Illinois colleges will see once-in-a-generation funding to develop the next generation of skilled IT workers.

Illinois Central College (ICC), Bradley University and Eureka College collectively received $15 million through the U.S. Economic Development Administration Good Jobs Challenge Grant, a $500 million grant program funded by the American Rescue Plan, to develop the local information technology (IT) workforce through a talent pipeline management system.

“Economic development is a team sport… They chose to make this a collaboration and I think that’s really important,” said Chris Setti, CEO of Greater Peoria Economic Development Council.

The $15 million grant will build the Hired! IT Workforce Accelerator Program to address the need for skilled IT workers in Central Illinois. The program is targeted at people new to the field and those who want to level up to a new position, free of charge.

“We’re going to take people currently in the IT field and upgrade their skills to what companies currently need to make their jobs more secure as well as those companies more stable… and then we’re going to bring new people into the industry,” said ICC President Dr. Sheila Quirk-Bailey.

Quirk-Bailey said area companies had 1,200 unfilled IT positions last year.

“This grant will fill 1,000 positions over three years, so while it won’t meet 100% of the demand, it is a significant step forward for our region, in terms of creating the people to fill the jobs that companies currently need to hire,” she said.

Setti said the pipeline of local talent will contribute to economic development in the region.

“When we talk to businesses, it’s all about workforce. Economic development is all about workforce. If you don’t have people to take the jobs that are available, our businesses can’t grow… When companies think about investment decisions, they don’t just think about what’s available today, but what will be available in a generation,” he said.

Dr. Stephen Standifird, president of Bradley University, said collaboration between the three institutions is what set them apart from other grant applicants.

“I can’t emphasize enough the power of us coming together collectively as a community to make this happen. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. No one institution could pull off what we’re doing through this particular grant, and I think it creates a wonderful model on how we have to consider moving forward as a community,” he said.

Dr. Jamel Wright, president of Eureka College, said the grant will provide resources to develop their new cybersecurity program.

“Cybersecurity is one of the biggest in-demand needs in the IT space. This will allow us to grow and strengthen that program. It will allow us to offer no-cost training and certification to fill some of the many needs that exist,” she said.

Quirk-Bailey said a special part of the grant focuses on lowering socioeconomic barriers to education through community partners.

“We provide transportation, wraparound services, childcare, so they have the support they need to get credentialed in the IT field,” she said.

Out of more than 500 proposals submitted to the EDA, the Workforce Accelerator Program is one of only 32 to be funded by the Good Jobs Challenge Grant.