Candance Chow, left, and Melanie Wright, two of the co-founders of NextGroup LLC RoundTable photo

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Tomorrow night, more than 100 women will gather at Campagnola on Chicago Avenue to hear about an innovative model of workforce development.

Four local women, Candance Chow, Tracy Quattrocki, Joan Sherman and Melanie Wright, founded NextGroup LLC to provide support, resources and employment connections to women who are re-entering the workforce. They sent their invitation by email to personal contacts and posted it on social media.

Each of the four co-founders of NextGroup holds a graduate degree, and each took a break from full-time paid employment. Now they are offering their expertise to both sides of the workforce: a “community of support and resources” for women who are relaunching their careers and “access to a hard-to-reach source of highly talented workers who are accustomed to juggling competing demands,” according to the group’s mission statement.

“What I think we are is a bit of an employment agency, combining talent cultivation and job placement,” says Ms. Chow.

Ms. Wright, who directed the Certificate Program for Undergraduates and the MS in Management Studies at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management before taking time off for family and volunteer commitments, says, “We recognize the workforce has changed.” She does not see that as a negative, however. “There are a lot of resources, and we believe there is an opportunity to help match the demand from employers with the untapped but highly talented workforce,” she says.

Having worked as a consultant to businesses for the past 15 years as well as being a volunteer and civic leader in the Evanston community, Ms. Chow says, “From personal and professional experience … I saw a need for my client businesses to access this unique market of highly talented women.”

Ms. Wright adds, “There are individual women who are looking for opportunities to contribute – not just to fill time. … NextGroup is for new moms and for women who took a break from paid work. From the women we spoke to, re-entry is not so easy. We are looking for their needs – what they need for re-entry: the pitch (“Why you should hire me”); work on the resume; talking about their skill sets.

“We can give women confidence and provide community. We are looking to reconnect with women in a way that’s not with our children – and find out what they want.”

Both Ms. Chow and Ms. Wright feel confident they will be able to help women connect with potential jobs.

“We can connect businesses with women who have teamworking skills and the ability to push an agenda forward, who can contribute, be flexible and work on a high level,” Ms. Chow says.

“There seem to be more businesses than we realized that need project-based resources,” Ms. Wright says. NextGroup feels their potential employees will include those who wish to work on a project, those who wish to work full- or part-time in a business and those who would choose to work remotely.

The employee pool they envision is women in Evanston who are not in the workforce at present. “Two-thirds of the females in this community have at least a college degree and half of those have advanced degrees,” says Ms. Chow. In Evanston, they say, the potential employment pool is both highly educated and diverse.

NextGroup’s estimate is that about 15,000 women in Evanston fit into the 35-50-year-old category, about 40% of whom have taken off work for economic and some for family reasons.

“We can help them explore the options,” Ms. Chow says. She adds, “We did some initial outreach to companies. We had some jobs but didn’t have the people [to fill them], so we pulled back a little until we see who shows up,” referring to the June 13 launch.

Just days before the launch, when Ms. Wright and Ms. Chow and spoke to the RoundTable, they appeared enthusiastic and open to what they would learn.

 “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction. It’s validating the idea,” Ms. Wright says. “People want to know what’s next.”

The group had to change the location for the launch because of the number of responses and have completely filled the new venue.

Michele Rogers,  Clinical Assistant Professor of Executive Education and Director of Chicago Partnerships at Kellogg, will moderate a discussion among Kathy Bayert, Director of Program Design at the Family Office Exchange;  Evan Finamore, Outreach and Development Manager at Illinois Partners for Human Services; LaTasha Triplett, Associate Director, Books and Breakfast; Marianne Markowitz, CEO of First Women’s  Bank; and Regina Wootton, Alumni Career & Professional Development at Kellogg.

 Ms. Wright and Ms. Chow say the event will likely provide reciprocal learning. “We want to be responsive to what we hear. …  And learn from the women what they want and need,” Ms. Chow adds. 

The founders and their potential clients will together explore “what’s next.”