City Community Service Manager Kevin Brown and his six-person team are at ground zero of workforce development. Under Mr. Brown’s leadership, Porschia Davis, Jermey McCray, Nathan Norman, Deanna Howlett, Stacy Morange and Lachisa Barton spend their days enticing at-risk youth from the surface attraction – or necessity – of street life into mainstream education and employment.
Through partnerships with businesses and organizations throughout Evanston, the outreach team members connect youth to resources and support – including jobs and soft-skills training.
Like the Youth Job Center, the City’s Community Services Division works with School Districts 65 and 202, Oakton Community College, the Youth Job Center, the National Able Network (in Evanston, based in the Main Library) and the Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council.
“Our staff members work with the social workers at ETHS and District 65’s Haven and Chute middle schools. The outreach helps to keep down suspensions, works with the families and keeps the kids in school. Both superintendents are behind this,” Mr. Brown says.
District 202 has given the outreach team an office at Evanston Township High School for half-days on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Mr. Brown says about 80% of the budget for his team goes to workforce development. The bulk of it goes to the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, Mr. Brown says, but the team also works with several local business to secure year-round employment for youth and young adults. They offer job-readiness training beforehand and keep in touch with both employees and employers afterward.
“We go door-to-door, knock on the door, introduce ourselves and hand a business card and say, ‘I’m working with the young people in our community.’ It helps them see what [we’re doing]. … The one thing about our local businesses is they support our kids,” Mr. Brown says, naming Bennison’s, Valli, McDonald’s Northwestern University, Burger King, little barber shops, Goodwill, CVS, Walgreen’s, Target and Best Buy.
Once a youth or young adult is placed in a job, the team members support these new full-time employees, helping them find such things as transportation and childcare, and keeping lines of communication open with the employer.
The skilled-trades program at Northwestern University, developed jointly with the City, offers up to six Evanston residents a paid apprenticeship in building maintenance, grounds-care and similar trades and a guaranteed job after successful completion of the apprenticeship.
Mr. Brown says he is working to develop similar programs with other major employers here.
“The most exciting thing I’m doing now is the work I’m doing with Neil Gambow,” Mr. Brown says.
“We’re working with the high school to help the high school and Superintendent [Eric] Witherspoon has been a fantastic help – to help identify a career path. Kids may not be going to college right away.
Mr. Brown says he does not think that any of his team members “believes that it is a choice between attending a four-year college or obtaining employment that does not require a college degree. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook https://www.bls.gov/ooh/fastest-growing.htm there are many in-demand careers developing in the next 10 years that do not require a four-year education to start down a career path.
“Many of those careers do, however, require training beyond high school. I think everyone believes that when a student leaves ETHS he or she should be prepared to enter a college program. Right now there are a large group of young people that are graduating and not going into four- year programs for a variety of reasons. I think what we are attempting to do is make all students aware of the available options and opportunities so that if they choose not to enter a four-year program they can pursue career paths that could put them firmly into the middle class.”