United States - Creating Career Pathways for Young People
Gary Comer Youth Center
Greater Grand Crossing is a predominantly African-American community located eight miles south of Chicago’s downtown loop. Of the 30,000 residents, nearly 40% are living in poverty. The Greater Grand Crossing neighborhood faces many of the same issues that plague the other high poverty areas and Chicago’s Southside more broadly: high rates of unemployment and violent crime and a lack of access to high quality education, safe housing, updated infrastructure and affordable healthcare. The life expectancy of a Greater Grand Crossing resident is 11 years less than that of Chicagoans who live in the loop.
The Gary Comer Youth Center (GCYC), in addition to offering after-school programming for young people in the community, has a 1-acre urban farm that produces more than 20,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables every year. This farm serves the dual purpose of (1) developing educational opportunities and career pathways for young people and (2) providing access to fresh, healthy food to the community.
What was the problem?
GCYC asked the Frontlines in America team to focus its work on development of a complete strategy for career pathways in the industries of technology, healthcare, and trades. While the Gary Comer Youth Center currently has a career path for students interested in culinary, expanding into more industries will allow the youth to garner a greater range of experiences. Executive Director of the Comer Education Campus, Rhonda Hopps asked the FIA team for the career pathway strategies to include:
- Identification of potential employers and job requirements
- Evaluation of relevant and required skills, training, and/ or certifications
- Assessment of potential revenue streams from related social enterprises
- Recommendations for storytelling and communication to secure additional funds through grants and donations
What did we do?
In order to build out career pathways for the three industries, we analyzed the potential career pathways across three industries (healthcare, technology, and the trades) and evaluated the job market and entry-level positions for each. From there, we began identifying the unique capabilities of GCYC and most promising partners for GCYC to work with to bring to life these career pathways.
What was the turning point?
The week in the southside of Chicago was the biggest turning point. While we were there we learned about overarching barriers facing the youth and the GCYC, and also found organizations that can serve as both successful models and partners. It was upsetting to see that stereotypes from higher socioeconomic neighborhoods where jobs are located were harming self-confidence and causing disempowerment of South Side youth. This allowed us to understand the heart of the problem and form our recommendations while also demonstrating to us that everyone has the power and responsibility to break down these stereotypes in our society.
What was the recommendation?
Our recommendation and insights were centered around best practices for successful career pathways, specific partnerships for building out career paths, and opportunities for overcoming the barriers to work identified during our time in the field. Our recommendations in more depth are as follows:
Successful pathway elements observed from other organizations include a seamless handoff from educators to employers, passionate instructors, individualized mentorship, corporate partners who can provide both internship and full-time job opportunities, and strong connections to the community .
Primary barriers to successful career outcomes include lack of exposure between South Side communities and external businesses resulting in prejudice which in turn negatively impacts youth empowerment.
Opportunities to help youth succeed include:
- Creating a constellation of support for each young person at GCYC
- Engaging youth in a variety of career pathways and conversation about their own career goals
- Intentional approach that fosters student’s self-confidence and self-efficacy
Partnership opportunities exist with a variety of external organizations. Partnerships with 548 Capital and the Urban League can help to establish after-school and weekend career programming for GCYC participants, and gain a broader network of GCYC supporters. Establish and maintain contact with Dawson Technical Institute, YWCA, and REACH to recommend students to training opportunities in trades, tech, and healthcare
Program opportunities include:
- Provide programs on financial literacy
- Create a formal mentorship program for youth
- Improve communication across the Comer Education Campus