Career exploration isn’t easy, which is why Nathan Norman, Workforce Development Coordinator at the City of Evanston, is an advocate for residents seeking new opportunities.
“We want to produce meaningful apprenticeship opportunities,” he said. “We want to link local employers with Evanston residents who’re seeking to enter the workforce.”
As COVID-19 created unexpected and often unfortunate work circumstances – many businesses closing, positions going remote – hundreds of city residents were in need of career assistance. The City of Evanston created the Workforce Development Coordinator position in December 2021, naming Norman to the post.
“I started out as the City of Evanston’s first youth and young adult outreach worker. And then from there became an outreach supervisor. Then I began to manage the mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program,” said Norman, who has worked for the city since 2012.
U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics from July 2022 show the national unemployment rate for teens aged 16-19 is about 12%, the highest of any age group. “We’re making an effort to engage these individuals and others to provide them with meaningful, sustainable career options,” Norman said.
Norman has partnered with several community organizations on programs that help individuals build up marketable skills and find sustainable career options:
Norman is in collaboration with the iKit Summer Internship Program, which gives graduating high school seniors a chance to explore various careers. He also has built a partnership with the YWCA, and is developing a new program, Emerge, with the Mather Place in Evanston. The purpose of Emerge, which has not launched yet, is to create a pipeline to careers in health care and senior living.
Another new program is the ASPIRE Evanston Community Healthcare Workforce Development Program, part of a strategic partnership with NorthShore University HealthSystem. ASPIRE seeks to bring more city residents into the health care field and then offer them a chance to upscale their career to higher-level positions within the industry.
“An individual may start out as a pharmacy technician or start in patient transportation, and they could see other opportunities within NorthShore that interest them, and could matriculate into becoming a nurse,” Norman said.
Another opportunity is the Evanston Work Ethic Program. The program, created by Hecky Powell, offers career exploration, job search preparation, mentorships and summer internships to students at Evanston Township High School.
This summer, about 30 people participated in the ASPIRE and iKit programs, while 15 teens participated in the Evanston Work Ethic Program.
Though young people were hit hard by the pandemic, Norman is assisting anyone 18 and older who is considered unemployed or “underemployed,” as well as those who have been incarcerated or in juvenile detention.
“We’ve created opportunities for individuals who are taking the nontraditional path, for the individuals looking to reenter the workforce, individuals who don’t have it all figured out,” he said.
According to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Evanston’s July 2022 unemployment rate was 4.3%, just below the statewide figure of 4.4% but higher than the national average of 3.5%.
With fall around the corner, Norman said he wants to further expand workforce development efforts. “We hope to create opportunities for individuals seeking opportunity, for those looking to upscale,” he said. “We also want to engage reentering citizens and provide them with wraparound support and opportunities.”
Norman said he finds the connections he makes to be the most rewarding part of his job. “It is gratifying to be a part of a program that seeks to identify and reduce barriers to employment,” he said.
He wants people to be successful, satisfied and prepared for the workforce.
“Residents know I am the person who can connect them with the right resources. I am a catalyst. I am a bridge-builder,” he said. “I’ve connected individuals in our community with resources they didn’t even know existed.”
Norman said he hopes residents of Evanston are aware he is available and happy to help those seeking career opportunities.
“I want individuals to know I am dedicated to them. I’m dedicated to moving the interest of the public forward. I signed up to advance the interest of the public. That is what I come to work to do … everyday,” he said.
Visit the City of Evanston website for more workforce development information or residents can call 311 and ask for Nathan Norman.