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For more than 35 years the Youth Job Center (YJC) has served Evanston and Chicago by providing employment-related services to young people in the community. Executive Director Karen Demorest says YJC’s goal is to serve everyone regardless of background, but they especially focus on disadvantaged or at-risk youth.

YJC seeks to accomplish more than just helping youth find a job. The organization wants to show young people their options and emphasize sustainable career paths as alternatives to college.

“For the past couple of decades, schools and partners have focused on helping underserved populations get support to go to college. Even though these are great intentions, this has left school and partner staff, and ultimately students and families not knowing about other career options that exist,” says Ms. Demorest.

While college opens up many opportunities, Ms. Demorest says, “There are many good living-wage career jobs that don’t require a college degree, in fields such as IT, manufacturing, healthcare, trades, infrastructure jobs such as power companies, road maintenance. …These careers are critical to our society and ones we rely on every day. They should have the level of respect of all career options.”

Through its programming, YJC helps shed light on these alternative post-secondary options.

YJC partners with Evanston Township High School to create programs that allow students to explore potential career paths. These courses include auto-mechanics, culinary arts and public safety. Through these classes, students fulfill ETHS graduation requirements while considering how their skills and interests might fit into a post-secondary plan.

They learn basic career skills in these courses as well, explains Ms. Demorest: “Our curriculum is built on these foundational skills, even when the trainings are skills-specific, such as in auto maintenance and repair.”

These in-school programs are especially important, as they help students prepare for their future while they still have the structure and support of ETHS.

Ms. Demorest hopes these programs will help younger students visualize and prepare for a “consistent path and outcome” from high school to life after graduation.

In addition to their programming for high school-aged people, YJC has programs for out-of-school youth. These programs, which primarily target those between 18 and 25 years of age, include work-readiness training, job fairs and a career pathways program, where cohorts of 10-12 youth participate in a multi-week training course that leads to certification.

The program emphasizes permanent employment and advancement in a career-track job. It also provides subsidized internships, so that youth can work while participating in the training.

YJC’s work readiness training helps young people gain confidence in skills applicable to most job search and workplace scenarios. Sessions include topics such as workplace expectations, resume development, interviewing techniques, professionalism, conflict resolution, self-esteem and work ethic.

Ms. Demorest said YJC’s programming with their out-of-school youth “helps inform” their high school programming. They have the opportunity to see the needs and knowledge-gaps of those who are no longer in school, and add in-school programming targeting those areas.

Ms. Demorest hopes that YJC’s work can serve as an example for job centers in other communities and will help promote the paradigm-shift she believes is crucial for supporting the success of young people, where the college-driven path can align with other options.

She noted that a key element of this shift would involve rethinking how high schools define success, from how many graduating students enroll in college to looking more generally at how many have a post-secondary plan.

“Evanston is well positioned to not only be successful but potentially be a model for other communities… [our work] can result in a positive impact for the students as they graduate, the employers as they build a workforce, and the community as it becomes a model for how to do this.”