Chicago job-placement group raising $10 million to go national

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future CEO Marie Trzupek Lynch says its successful approach can be tried in other cities.

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Marie Trzupek Lynch, CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future

Marie Trzupek Lynch, CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future

Sun-Times file

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, which since 2012 has matched the area’s unemployed with companies that need qualified workers, said Tuesday it is beginning a $10 million fundraising campaign for a national expansion.

The campaign is starting even as the group does more work locally to help employers in a tight labor market. “The war for talent is like nothing I have ever seen. Workers have the power right now,” CEO Marie Trzupek Lynch said.

Lynch said Skills in June placed about 150 people in jobs with major corporations, the highest monthly count in its history. She said that while fewer job seekers are contacting the group, more companies are leaning on Skills to help them find candidates.

Skills coaches job seekers and matches them with hiring managers at any of about 40 major companies. Lynch called it a “jobs first” approach to helping the unemployed and reducing inequities in opportunity.

She said Skills has placed 9,000 people in Chicago-area jobs since its founding, 70% of them from the city’s South and West sides. It has offices downtown and in Englewood and is seeking a location on the West Side.

With more companies valuing diversity in their hiring, Skills can expand a successful model to other cities, Lynch said. The fundraising sets a 10-year goal of bringing the group to 25 cities.

“This is an issue in the not-for-profit industry. There are good solutions that unfortunately don’t get scaled,” she said.

The fundraising has started with $1 million in seed money, including $500,000 from Skills’ board chair, Mark Hoplamazian, and his wife, Rachel Kohler. Their gift includes a challenge for another $250,000 in matching funds.

Hoplamazian is CEO of Hyatt Hotels, which has significant ownership from the Pritzker family. Former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker was instrumental in launching Skills.

Other early funders include the Stand Together Foundation, Dennis and Joan Berger, and the Economic Opportunity Challenge.

Lynch said that in scouting for other cities, Skills would look for those with large minority populations, “an engaged business community” and local nonprofits or government leaders that want the help. “We don’t want to just show up,” she said.

Skills has had an operation in Rhode Island since 2016. It was launched with the backing of the state’s governor at the time, Gina Raimondo, a venture capitalist now the Commerce secretary under President Joe Biden.

In 2015, the consulting firm New Growth Group, hired by Skills to review its effectiveness, said persons the group placed in jobs had higher earnings compared to those with similar backgrounds who did not seek its help. It said the greatest earnings boost came to people who made the least money before their job placement.

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