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From 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on March 2, just days before the annual Summer Youth Employment Fair, Evanston Township High School will hold a “career options” night, targeting ETHS youth who are not likely to attend college. Information on specific activities for the evening will be available in the lobby of the school, 1600 Dodge Ave.

Kevin Brown, Youth and Young Adult Program Manager for the City of Evanston, who with Evanston resident Neil Gambow helped the school organize the event, said he hopes the evening will show students and their parents that students who choose not to attend college can have a career, not just a job, after high school.

Shelley Gates, chair of the Career and Technical Education Department at ETHS, told the RoundTable, “Kids could be making really smart choices [when they decide to pursue a career after high school rather than go to college]. We should be celebrating those students. That is a positive story we can tell to the parents in our community – you could choose a better situation than a four-year college.”

Mr. Brown said, “People think that it’s an either/or situation. The reason we’re involved is to help parents and students understand about real-world apprenticeships. … We are trying to change the culture toward career options, talking about a career – not just ‘college versus career,’” Mr. Brown said.

Mr. Brown said some students graduate from college “with a $100,000 debt. They have learned to think critically but have only a $30,000-per-year job. We want kids to think about it in terms of career choice: ‘What tangible skill sets do I have?’ That is what we want parents and kids to talk about.”

Mr. Gambow said, “Change the words. Don’t take a job, make a career. Talk about outcomes – not just college.”

Ms. Gates and Mr. Brown both said students who do not plan to attend a four-year college often feel bad about themselves.

“I’m interested in changing the conversation, so it’s not ‘[Go to] college – but if you can’t do that …,’” Ms. Gates said. “We as a community have to work on our language. … Part of it is to educate our whole community to [the idea of] ‘multiple pathways to success.’”

 “From a cultural standpoint at the high school, kids who don’t feel very good about themselves if they say they are not going to college – so now we’re talking about careers, not [college] pennants, so they can feel better,” Mr. Brown said.

More than two dozen potential employers are slated to attend the event, offering information about their trades, internships they offer, and what courses a student needs to take in order to be considered for an internship.  

 “Between 22% and 25% of ETHS graduates don’t go to college,” Mr. Gambow said – “which is better than the national statistic of 40-50%. The real key is to get hold of the parents” to let them know about post-high school options. “I don’t know how high schools can ignore the fact that great jobs go begging, because parents don’t know about them,” he added.

Mr. Brown agreed, “The more parents are involved, the better.”

Apprenticeships offer continual learning, plus a salary, and some companies offer stipend to attend school or acquire additional training, Mr. Gambow said. “It’s tangible; it’s a real career; it can’t be outsourced; there is continual learning; and you’re making real money,” Mr. Gambow said.

The event “is a way to show, ‘This is a career you can have, and this is the way you get there,’” Mr. Gambow said.

Ms. Gates said “We will be collecting information from those who attend the March 1 event to make sure we can help—make connections and direct follow-up with anyone who is interested in a program.”

She also said she hopes career-readiness events become a normal thing at the high school. “The counseling department wants us to do more of them. We have a large number of college-ready events.”

Ms. Gates, Mr. Brown, and Mr. Gambow all say they hope for a good turnout at this inaugural career-readiness evening.

AmeriCorps (Youth Opportunity United)
CHICAP (Chicago Regional Carpenters Apprenticeship Program)
City of Evanston- Youth & Young Adult Division
Coyne College
Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership
Dempster Auto Rebuilders
Evanston Fire Explorers Program (Boy Scouts of America)
Evanston Police Explorers Program (Boy Scouts of America)
Evanston Public Library
Evanston Work Ethic (WE) Program
ETHS College & Career Services
ETHS Youth Job Center Outpost
Hip Circle Empowerment Center
Illinois Army National Guard
ICATT Apprenticeship Programs
INSPIRE Your Future
Jensen Litigation Solutions- Court Reporting Training
Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) Chicago
Kendall College
Oakton Community College- Career Programs
Rotary Club of Evanston Lighthouse
Symbol Training Institute
Universal Technical Institute
US Air Force
US Army
US Marine Corps
Year Up! Chicago

Mary Gavin

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...