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Illinois Paid IT Training Program Sees Overwhelming Demand

The Illinois IT Trainee Program, offering full-time paid training and a competitive salary, has snagged the attention of aspiring tech professionals, with thousands of people vying for a handful of positions.

A diverse crowd of people
Shutterstock/Angelina Bambina
The Illinois IT Trainee Program, an experiment to grow a pipeline of tech talent within the state government by hiring candidates first and then paying them to undergo career development has drawn an overwhelming response.

Applications for the program have far exceeded expectations, with the first cohort in Chicago attracting about 1,500 applicants — a staggering 75 candidates for each of the cohort's 20 positions. The second cohort, based in Springfield, also saw significant interest, receiving approximately 500 applications, five times the amount program coordinators anticipated.

“I think that there’s a combination of interest in having the opportunity to get in and work for the state, and then also to crack into this industry,” said Jason Barth, head of human resources for the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT). “This gives people kind of that double edge today, a really good employer plus the opportunity to do something in the technical sphere.”

What also may appeal to many applicants is the pay, which is $54,000 a year for program participants, including during the training period. According to the state’s Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data from 2022, that’s significantly higher than the average entry-level pay, and higher than the state’s median salary of $49,108.


DoIT's IT Trainee Program offers a unique pathway into public-sector technology careers. Anyone at least 18 years old can apply for the in-person (and potentially hybrid) program which is a full-time job. No technical experience or education is required.

The first cohort in Chicago launched in January, followed by Springfield's group in the spring. According to Barth, selected applicants for the current cohorts have a diverse range of backgrounds, including individuals with sociology degrees, veterans with military tech experience and those with formal computer science education but no practical experience.

In return for a $54,000 annual salary and comprehensive training, participants agree to work for the state for three continuous years. Training is included in that period, which will take about a year. Participants won’t get a diploma, but they might get an industry-recognized certification — current cohorts are working toward CompTIA certificates.

They’re also being assigned mentors and job shadow employees with the state. If the participants pass the coursework, they’ll get a full-time job with the state.


Like most government agencies, Illinois faces a government IT talent shortage and needs to fill positions; there are currently more than 20 open jobs listed on the department’s website.

Additionally, the state is in competition with high-paying private-sector jobs at companies like Microsoft and Salesforce.

“We are taking this into our own hands,” said Barth. “We’re competing against this private-sector thing, this gives us a leg up on bringing people through and then it will improve services because we will continue to be able to staff at that level.”

The first two cohorts have focused on end-user computing, with most positions slated for the general help desk. However, the program is still evolving. Future cohorts will expand into high-demand areas like cybersecurity and networking, aligning training with the state's specific technological needs.
It really just gives us the ability to home grow, and have this constant pipeline of talent.
Jason Barth, Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology Human Resources Director
It’s a reimagining of how that state attracts and retains technical talent. Traditionally, the state sought experienced individuals to fill existing roles. Now, they're selecting candidates based on potential and then providing the training necessary to succeed in those roles.

“Then everybody has that baseline and we know exactly what we’re getting. We’ll be able to tie it to the kind of systems that we have,” said Barth. “It really just gives us the ability to home grow, and have this constant pipeline of talent.”

Barth added that ideally, the state would like to continue having two cohorts a year. The annual cost for just the salary of 40 IT Trainee Program positions comes out to about $2.1 million.

However, according to Barth, the three-year program will save the state money in recruiting.

“Investment-wise, the thought is that we will have a happier, more engaged workforce by bringing them through this program,” said Barth. “We are giving people good careers, and then also are creating a satisfied workforce.”


Illinois is taking a data-driven approach to assess the IT Trainee Program's impact on fostering a well-trained workforce with reduced turnover. The state plans to monitor key metrics such as the pull-through rate (the number of participants who complete the program), career progression within the organization and overall employee retention.

While the data isn’t available yet, the applicant numbers speak volumes — people in Illinois are interested in working in public-sector IT. Those people may not have a technical background, but they do have something else the state wants.

“We want some good energy, we want people to come in with new ideas, and then also be able to grow that talent,” said Barth.

DoIT plans to launch a third cohort sometime in the fall of 2024.
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.