Beyond the Diploma, announced today, was created by Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a Chicago-based workforce-development nonprofit. The program’s goal is to recruit and place 1,125 young people in career-track jobs in its first two years and keep them in those jobs.
Skills for Chicagoland’s Future created the program to address the fact that retention rates for young people it places lag 5 percent to 7 percent behind adult hires.
Beyond the Diploma has two parts: one for high-school students 16 to 19 and one for high-school graduates ages 18 to 24. Skills recruiters will work with Chicago Public Schools high schools to help students with job readiness and connect them with part-time and summer jobs.
The graduate program will place young people in jobs and provide them mentorships, social support and soft-skills training, such as how to dress and communicate in the workplace. While they’re working, those graduates will be enrolled in degree or skills-based programs at City Colleges of Chicago.
As part of the pilot, Walgreens plans to hire 20 to 25 high-school graduates this spring for part-time and full-time customer-associate roles at retail locations. In addition to paying their wages, Walgreens will cover the participants’ tuition at City Colleges. Their class schedules will be created to accommodate their work schedules at Walgreens.
Deerfield-based Walgreens has worked with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future for several years, according to company spokesman Phil Caruso. “We have been impressed with the quality of the candidates they provide and the care they give them through the hiring process,” Caruso says in an email.
Employees placed at Walgreens through Skills as customer associates or pharmacy technicians have been promoted to more senior roles such as shift leads and assistant-manager trainees, according to Caruso.
The other employers participating are CDW, Freedman Seating and Rush University Medical Center. Grants from the Pritzker Traubert Family Foundation, Chicago Community Trust and Aspen Institute, among others, have helped fund program costs of about $1.4 million, says Marie Trzupek Lynch, Skills founder and CEO. Chicago Urban League, Cara Program and One Million Degrees will lend mentoring and social-services support to the program.
A two-year pilot will help Skills work out program issues “in a very high-touch way,” Lynch says. She adds that the four companies involved in the pilot have hired 350 people through Skills. In 10 years, the program could place thousands of people at dozens of local companies, she says.
Why can’t employers hire under- or unemployed youth on their own? “That’s not what they’re in business to do,” Lynch says. “By design, they are not experts in reaching out to neighborhoods.”
Skills has identified at least 30 youth-facing organizations that will help it identify job candidates and will also get recruiting help from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership.