Workforce development has become one of Evanston’s buzzwords. While the term may seem straightforward and almost self-explanatory, it is malleable enough and adaptable enough to cover a multifaceted approach to enhancing businesses by increasing the value of employees and potential employees.  

Locally, several groups are developing creative and effective ways to bolster Evanston’s workforce through training, mentoring, education and apprenticeships. These programs do not come under one umbrella and they are external, and they focus on potential rather than existing employees. The target age group is 18-26 for most of the programs, but the high school and the City’s Youth and Young Adult Programs Division reach down to age 14.

Farther down the road, City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has said he would like to see the City be involved in workforce development for unemployed and under-employed residents up to about age 44.

Some aspects of workforce development begin with the unemployed or underemployed. The Youth Job Center, for example, teaches “soft” job-skills training, such as how to prepare for an interview. (See accompanying story)

 The City’s Youth and Young Adult Programs division connects teens to local businesses, where they receive on-the-job training in, among other things, job etiquette and customer relations.  In partnership with Northwestern University, the Youth and Young Adult Division identifies six potential young adults each year for a paid apprenticeship program with the University, with a promise of employment after successful completion of the program.

Education is the key to a career, whether it be post-high-school or post-college. Evanston Township High School appears to be replacing its vision of the early 1990s that ETHS would prepare all students to be able to gain admittance to and succeed in a four-year college or university with a dual focus on a “career” track and a “college” track.

Skills and qualities needed to advance in most businesses are virtually the same for college graduates and non-college graduates, and they include such core competencies as analytical skills, critical thinking, problem-solving, logic, teamwork and good oral and written communication. 

Oakton Community College is partnering with ETHS and the City to help in workforce development as well.

On the employers’ side, Mayor Stephen Hagerty has created the Mayor’s Employment Advisory Council, headed by Neil Gambow and composed of representatives of local businesses and other organizations. A recent tally of members included City of Evanston, Evanston Township High School District 202, Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, State Representative Robyn Gabel, Neil Gambow (Chair), Evanston Chamber of Commerce, Downtown Evanston, Evanston Public Library, Northwestern University, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Oakton Community College, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Presence Health, Aramark, S&C Electric, Inclusion Solutions, Wintrust Bank, BLUE1647, Starbucks, Ward Manufacturing, First Bank & Trust, Hecky’s Barbecue, Dempster Auto Rebuilders, Cinemark Theatres, NorthStar Heating and Air Conditioning, Koi, Fisher Auto Group, Hilton Orrington/Evanston, Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Evanston Cradle to Career, Evanston Work Ethic Program, Youth Job Center, Evanston Community Foundation, National Able Network, Inspire Your Future and NSERVE2016.

“The biggest thing,” Mayor Hagerty said, “is focusing on that 20% of the kids who graduate from ETHS but don’t go to college. … What responsibility do we have to try and help these folks get into some kind of a career?”

This advisory council, according to the City’s website, will “focus on enhancing collaboration between Evanston employers and educators, better connecting students with career opportunities in the City while providing local employers with a well-prepared source of talent.” The Council has set a goal of moving 100 students per year directly into careers with Evanston employers by the time it sunsets in June of 2021.

The articles with the links below cover the work of the Youth Job Center and the City’s Youth and Young Adult Programs.

Next time: Education and Training of Evanston’s Potential but Underutilized Workforce

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...