Career 360: An Employer-led Approach to Bridging the Opportunity Divide

Co-Authors: Corey Matthews, National Director of LeadersUp and Kristen Lewis, Co-Director, Measure of America

Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” If you currently live in Chicago, you know what it feels like to be living a tale of two cities. On the one hand, the city boasts the third-largest metro economy in the United States. It is a global financial center, has a diverse industry base and numerous institutions of higher learning, and is home to the second-busiest airport in the world. It is also home to some of the most crime-ridden and impoverished neighborhoods in America. The city’s economic, racial, and social diversity is reflected in the marked disparities for opportunity youth—teens and young adults who disconnected from school and work—who live along the shores of Lake Michigan. Chicago struggles to address a myriad of persistent challenges in achieving educational, social, economic, and political equity. Through investments in system-level policy change is a story of national importance.  Indeed, Chicago is being closely watched by academic and policymaking organizations that are seeking to identify potential smart solutions to closing the opportunity divide in under-resourced urban communities.

Scholars, activists, influencers, and media personalities attest to the positive power of jobs in disrupting violence in Chicago’s impoverished neighborhoods – a claim that has been substantiated by academic studies. Jobs as a proposed solution makes good sense by all economic, political, and social standards; find ways for companies to hire young adults from Chicago’s toughest neighborhoods and the crime rate will go down. However, there is a disconnect in helping young adults find viable career opportunities with companies, even those that are sorely lacking the talent they need to meet workforce demands. Research suggests that for every 100 disconnected young adults, communities (can) lose up to 1.5 million dollars in social and economic gains. More than 150,000 of those young adults live in Chicagoland. Meanwhile, companies that comprise the transportation, distribution, and logistics sector, such as FedEx, UPS, and C.H. Robinson, are projected to grow by at least 4.8% within the next ten years—and they need employees. Bringing industry and these young adults together has tremendous potential as a win-win-win solution for employers, opportunity youth, and Chicagoland as a whole.

LeadersUp partnered with Measure of America, a research project of the Social Science Research Council, to stimulate a dialogue on how we can support young adults and link them to career opportunities in Chicago’s fractured neighborhoods. Youth disconnection research and data visualizations developed by Measure of America created a framework for the discussion based on the evidence and provided a common language to explore pathways for potential solutions. Together, we planned and facilitated an innovation lab to understand the challenges in connecting young adults from the toughest neighborhoods to industry with a high demand for entry-level to middle-skill talent.

The goal was to identify, quantify, and clarify issues impacting vulnerable young adults—among them youth who are single parents, are homeless, have limited skills, and are involved with the justice system—and work with 35 representatives from community colleges, industry representatives, human resources professionals, and vital community organizations to find concrete, actionable ways to connect youth to secure career pathways.

The overarching barriers included a lack of trust between youth and employers, a perceived lack of transparency around hiring decisions, and perceived system-level biases. A report prepared after the innovation lab highlights our findings and presents recommendations for practitioners, policymakers, system leaders, employers, community colleges, and other stakeholders to repair trust among young adults and communicate the promise and potential of career pathways within the transportation, distribution, and logistics Industry.

LeadersUp Career 360 is a new multi-level and cross-sectoral experience designed to connect industry to young adult talent through career pathway development and career exploration. Click here to see a recap of the Career 360 Innovation Session that lead to the findings in this report.

We hope the report will serve as call to action for other communities to engage diverse stakeholders, including young adults, to develop meaningful solutions to reconnect young people and prevent future disconnection.