The Crusader Newspaper Group

Partnership connects unemployed and underemployed with jobs

Juwana Dorsey is not lazy. She wasn’t unemployed because she wanted to be, and it wasn’t for lack of effort.

She just needed a connection.

In 2014, Dorsey decided to move back home to Chicago from Minnesota, confident that she could find a good job with her experience in hospital environmental services. Instead, she spent the next 11 months searching for work, forcing her to move in with her parents and rely on government aid to provide for her three-year-old daughter.

Today most employers utilize online job applications for hiring purposes. This enables them to filter through hundreds of applications using key words and phrases to narrow their search. Unfortunately, this method also causes many employers to overlook otherwise qualified applicants without the benefit of an interview to clarify any concerns raised in their application.

Dorsey was one of the many long-term unemployed job seekers who are left out of the hiring process despite good qualifications and experience.

In November 2015, Dorsey found Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (Skills), a non-profit, public-private partnership that matches employers that have current openings with qualified, unemployed or underemployed job seekers. In two weeks, Skills helped Dorsey get hired as an environmental services technician at Rush University Medical Center.

Dorsey shared her story at an announcement held last Wednesday, April 6 by Skills and Mayor Rahm Emanuel to unveil the organization’s 2015 social and economic impact. The announcement was held at Rush University Medical Center, which hired 38 job seekers through Skills in 2015 and has committed to hiring 50 in 2016.

Dorsey is just one of more than 1,000 unemployed and underemployed job-seekers whom Skills helped place in jobs at more than 40 companies in 2015.

“As a single mother, the experience of being unemployed was stressful and frustrating. It didn’t matter how many applications I sent out or how well the job lined up with my experience, I would never get a response,” Dorsey told the crowd.

Dorsey applied online for the position at RUMC through a job listing she came across in her search. Because she was unemployed, her application was flagged by Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. A Skills recruiter soon reached out to her with an opportunity to interview at RUMC, and even provided coaching throughout the entire interview process.

“After I connected with Skills and applied for the position at RUMC, my Skills recruiter prepared me for my interviews and stayed in touch throughout the hiring process until the day I got my job offer,” said Dorsey.

Thanks to her job at RUMC, Dorsey has been able to move into her own apartment and provide for her daughter. She said, “I finally feel like my life is back on track.”

Unfortunately, Dorsey’s story is not unique in many of Chicago’s neighborhoods; her community of South Shore is just one pocket of the city that still faces stubbornly high unemployment rates. Forty-three percent of job seekers placed by Skills in 2015 reside in communities with unemployment rates of more than 20 percent, such as Chatham, Auburn Gresham, South Chicago, Austin and others. Seventy-three percent of placed job seekers were African-American.

Since its inception in 2012, Skills has placed more than 2,400 unemployed and underemployed job seekers into positions with more than 50 companies.

Those statistics illustrate why Marie Trzupek Lynch, president and CEO of Skills, describes the organization as a “zip-code equalizer.”

“Despite an improving economic climate, there are neighborhoods and populations such as youth that are still disproportionately affected by unemployment. By connecting qualified, motivated job seekers from these communities to corporations with current hiring needs, we can serve as that vital conduit for job seekers who may not be identified through traditional hiring practices,” said Lynch.

The organization has already placed more than 170 residents into jobs this year, with goals of placing more than 1,100 by the end of the year and 5,000 by 2018. Since Skills was launched, funding from the City of Chicago has supported more than 60 percent of job placements.

“Skills for Chicagoland’s Future is a key city partner that reaches deep into communities to connect Chicagoans with economic opportunity through employment,” Mayor Emmanuel said. “The impact of each of these placements extends well beyond the job seeker to their family and into their community. I commend each of the businesses for making this important commitment and impacting our neighborhoods, and look forward to working alongside Skills to provide even more opportunities for Chicagoans to succeed and prosper.”

Former unemployed job seeker Elizabeth Jones urged unemployed and underemployed Chicagoland residents to utilize Skills’ services. Jones said she filled out nearly 200 job applications during her two-month period of unemployment, which came after she left her previous job to take care of her ailing father-in-law. After Jones’ father-in-law died, her lack of income combined with funeral expenses put her and her family in dire financial straits.

Thanks to Skills, Jones landed a job at Ulta Beauty. Not long after she started, she was promoted to Operations Manager.

“I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without God’s help, and without Skills for Chicagoland’s Future,” said Jones.

All it took was a connection.

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