Emanuel unveils jobs program for ‘disconnected’ youth

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel congratulates Dakwane Jackson of Austin at Friday’s news conference to announce “Beyond the Diploma,” a new program aimed at combating chronic youth unemployment in Chicago. | Photo by Fran Spielman

Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Friday showcased an innovative corporate partnership tailor-made to tackle a problem at the heart of Chicago’s crime wave: the fact that 60,000 young people are “disconnected” from school and work.

The program is called, “Beyond the Diploma.” It calls for Walgreens, CDW, Freedman Seating and Rush University Medical Center to provide “jobs with career pathways” for 1,125 high school graduates living in Chicago between the ages of 17 and 24.

The two-year jobs won’t be sink-or-swim. It’s a holistic, “earn-and-learn” program that calls for City Colleges to provide targeted skills training with mentoring support provided by the Chicago Urban League, One Million Degrees and Cara.

Marie Trzupek Lynch, president and founding CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, said “Beyond the Diploma” is the product of a six-month analysis that gathered input from disconnected youth, employers and community groups.

Seed money is being provided by: a $700,000 grant from the Pritzker Traubert Foundation; a $500,0000 grant from the Chicago Community Trust and additional funding from the Aspen Institute, the Osa Foundation, AT&T, the Mayer & Morris Kaplan Foundation and an anonymous funder.

“We started with a job and an employer and built everything around it,” Lynch said.

“What is most unique….is that these are two-year, earn-and-learn programs supported by mentoring and education that provide a comprehensive career pathway with best-in-class partners at no cost to youth and, in fact, with wages to earn along the way…These employers are committed and have helped us design progressive pathway programs….that start with somebody as an entry-level job and move them through the organization.”

Lynch credited Dakwane Jackson for providing a story that “touched our hearts” and feedback that “changed this program.”

“I’ve been able to get temporary and sporadic work. But I’m also still not employed in a long-term role. I’ve had to battle homelessness and many other hurdles. But the [biggest] problem is, I haven’t had permanent employment,” Jackson, who grew up in Austin, said.

“Skills understands that young people like me need more than just a paycheck. We need support, guidance and education that will empower us to create our own long-term success and our own career path.”

Emanuel said he ran into Jackson at a homeless shelter about a year ago.

The mayor called Jackson’s presence at Friday’s news conference at Walgreen’s corporate office in the South Loop a tribute to the young man’s “perseverance and drive.”

“For whatever reason, he had part-time jobs. For whatever reason, he didn’t have a shelter. And for whatever reason, he didn’t go past high school. He made a decision he wants a home. He wants a job and he wants an education. We have a responsibility, once he makes that decision, to help him get on his way,” Emanuel said.

“Two years from now, Mr. Jackson is gonna be a totally different man. We actually created for him the type of support that Amy and I….do for our own kids….We’re putting our hand back and grabbing Mr. Jackson’s and hundreds of other young men and women who want to get right.”

Young people eager to apply for the program can file applications at http://www.scfjobs.com/pivot.

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