The Need: Addressing Chicago’s Youth Unemployment Crisis
Chicago is in crisis, struggling with high levels of youth violence, homicides and an unacceptable number of youth who are “disconnected” – either unemployed, out-of-school, or both. Disconnected, jobless youth are at greater risk for negative outcomes such as poverty, criminal behavior, and incarceration. Chicago is home to more than 60,000 “Opportunity Youth” who are neither employed or in school; African American youth are significantly impacted, with over 60% of 20-24 year olds unemployed. Skills for Chicagoland’s Future’s (Skills) CEO was driven to action after attending the Chicago Urban League’s 2016 youth jobs hearing. Young adults spoke about the difficulty in finding jobs, and fervently described their desire for employment and how important jobs are to not only provide a source of income, but also a sense of self-worth and exposure to alternatives beyond the “underground economy” and the everyday lure of gangs. Upon analyzing employer demand, Skills’ staff determined that nearly 1,000 jobs, which could have been filled by young adults, were left on the table by Skills due to capacity and funding constraints. Recognizing that Skills had unique access to the jobs the youth were requesting and compelled to be responsive to Chicago and its youth, Skills obtained funding to evaluate how Skills could help work with nonprofit partners to put Chicago’s youth back to work.
While awareness and interest in dedicating resources to combat this challenge is increasing, young adults from underserved communities are in desperate need of jobs now. Although the benefits of summer employment are well documented, young adults need year-round part-time and full-time employment both while in and after leaving school. Despite the heavy emphasis on college preparation, only 18% of CPS 9th graders will obtain a four-year college degree within ten years of starting high school. Additionally, only an estimated 16% of students will follow the straight-forward path of entering and graduating from a 4-year college immediately after high school graduation.
So the question emerges, who can the youth turn to when seeking a job? This program represents our immediate, thoughtful, and comprehensive approach to putting 2,000 of Chicago’s youth into jobs over the next two years. And, with a five-year track record of 4,500 job placements with 60 committed employers, Skills for Chicagoland’s Future stands ready to link arms with employers, government, funders, and nonprofit partners to make a difference in the economic and life trajectory of Chicago’s youth one job, one person at a time.
During the engagement phase of our youth initiative, Skills conducted an in-depth investigation to explore our hypothesis that an employer-driven initiative that results in a real, committed job – coupled with the soft skills training, mentorship, and supports necessary for youth to obtain and persist in employment – will create positive impact for both young adults and businesses.
After completing youth focus groups and a survey, a community listening tour, an employer round table, and a best in class market scan, we’ve adjusted and strengthened the initial hypothesis we tested. Overall, we found that young adults experience many of the same barriers as older adults – such as access to reliable transportation, desire for higher wages, need for affordable childcare, and need for flexible work schedules - but also face unique social and emotional challenges in how they relate to co-workers and superiors. In particular, we identified a clear need for ongoing support and motivation in addition to initial job readiness training. Our program recommendations directly address these key findings:
Proposal: Beyond the Diploma Youth Employment
Based on the findings to date, Skills has launched a comprehensive initiative, Beyond the Diploma: Skills’ Demand-Driven Approach to Youth Employment, that includes three programmatic models focused on applying demand-driven job solutions for youth, enhanced with supports, to maximize job placements for Chicago’s high school students, opportunity youth, and college graduates. Skills is serving three segments of youth:
Due to the unique needs of each segment and the associated jobs that align, Skills has conceived of three program models to serve each of these segments that are distinct in approach.