One Chicago Summer Jobs program looks to businesses for help

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In 2014, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Leslie Harrison visited with participants of the One Summer Chicago jobs program as they helped clean up the 63rd Street beach. | Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday morning implored Chicago’s business community to open their doors to young people by participating in a city-sponsored summer jobs program.

Emanuel — speaking at an awards breakfast Tuesday for exceptional youth workers — acknowledged that most of the 31,435 jobs handed out this year by the One Summer Chicago program were with the city — painting viaducts, mulching trees, planting gardens or working with children in after-school programs.

“We have to go bigger. And I’ve got to be honest, the largest employer is the City of Chicago. So to the private sector, this is your city. That building downtown, it’s just not a building with your name on it,” he said. “You can see Englewood from that building. You can see Roseland from that building. You can see Pilsen from that building. You can see Back of the Yards from that building . . . you can see the whole city.”

“I want all the companies, I want to thank you for supporting what we’re doing,” Emanuel said, a nod to the fact that $16 million of the program’s $30 million budget this year came from private-sector donors.

“But if we’re going to grow beyond the 31,000, I do appreciate the contribution to this effort financially, but I also need your work spaces. Bring these kids in. It’s not baby-sitting. I know what the hesitation is. It is not baby-sitting,” he said.

Emanuel’s rhetoric, however, doesn’t exactly match the vision of the person he put in charge of the program: Lisa Morrison Butler, commissioner of the city’s Department of Family and Support Services.

Though Morrison Butler recognizes demand is high — there are two applications for every one summer job — she wants to halt growth for a year in order to overhaul the program.

“I don’t know if you kind of heard me yelling at the mayor when he talked about growing it,” Morrison Butler said moments after the conclusion of the event, which took place at the Chicago Cultural Center. “He always wants to grow it, and I appreciate that, you hear his passion.”

She said changes would be made with a specific goal in mind: Getting participants ready to work in a corporate environment.

“It’s one thing to ask government partners, like my fellow city commissioners that I see every day, it’s one thing to say to them, ‘Overlook the warts,’ ” she said.

“But as we grow this through our corporate partners, the warts need to go away, and we need to be able to deliver them smooth transitions in their environments,” said Morrison Butler, who was appointed by Emanuel in June of last year.

“There is nothing wrong with our corporate partners expecting a certain level of preparedness when a person comes to their door,” she added.

Participants in One Summer range from 14 to 24. The private sector push she is planning would be geared toward more mature participants. But basic skills need to be mastered, such as “showing up on time and being dressed appropriately for work and taking constructive feedback.”

A lot of participants have no experience with professional work settings, she said.

“There are things we just take for granted — those of us who grew up in professional households,” she said. “For instance, I heard my mom and dad have conversations around the dinner table about ‘How you handled a stressful situation with your boss’ or ‘What happened if a customer came in and they were upset or irate, what do you do in that circumstance.’ ”

“If we’re really going to turn this into a wholesale effort with the corporate and private sector, we’ve got to be able to assure them that they won’t have to completely train kids, that the kids will come to them somewhat job ready,” said Morrison Butler, who envisions using the rest of this year and all of 2017 to come up with a plan and carry it out.

“And then 2018 might be the first year that we can then really go to the corporations and say, ‘we’ve done this work and there’s a subset of kids that are ready to come your way,’ ” she said.

She anticipates starting small, with maybe 500 One Summer participants ready for corporate placement in 2018.

Thus far, many of the corporate partners who’ve funded the program haven’t been asked to take participants under their wing for the duration of the seven-week summer work cycle, Morrison Butler said.

Folks from her office have been in touch with representatives from Hyatt Hotels and McDonalds for input on what might make a successful program. Her staff is also reaching out to other cities to explore best practices.

“I feel like we will get one time to do this right,” she said. “If we go to Macy’s and we say, ‘Bring these kids on’ and then the kids come in and it doesn’t work for Macy’s or it doesn’t work for Hyatt, then they will be burned, and there’s so many people in a city like this looking for work, why would they ever have to come back here again, there will always be other avenues for them. So we got one chance to get it right.”

Morrison Butler also spoke of filling retail positions with Big Box stores and coffee shops.

Another challenge: Persuading a mayor who’s dead set on expedient growth.

“I want him to give me one year where maybe we don’t grow and we instead focus on building this system so we can grow more a year from now,” Morrison Butler said. “I don’t know if I’ll win that. But that’s my hope.”

Hours after she the event on Tuesday, Morrison Butler sent this statement to the Chicago Sun-Times: “The City of Chicago has expanded One Summer Chicago by 117% since 2011 and will continue to grow next year to meet the strong demand and interest by youth across the city. DFSS is working more closely with our partners to ensure that as we continue to grow each year that we are also continuing to drive more meaningful experiences for the young men and women who participate in the program.”

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