June 14, 2022
Spotlight: Our Employment Program
The Employment program addresses the Fry Foundation’s commitment to helping families and individuals move out of poverty. The program supports comprehensive job training programs that help individuals access living-wage jobs and careers.
The Foundation has historically focused support on three types of job training programs:
- Vocational Training: The Fry Foundation invests in vocational training as a key tool for helping job seekers secure middle-skilled jobs which offer good wages and career advancement in high growth industries like manufacturing, healthcare, and transportation. Middle-skilled jobs are the largest number of available jobs in Illinois. These programs also provide job retention support after placement on the job. The strongest programs track participants for a full year. Vocational training programs typically serve participants who have a high school diploma or GED, some work experience, and math and reading skills at a 9th grade level or above.
- Bridge Programs: These programs help prepare adults who do not meet the educational requirements of vocational training programs. Bridge programs allow participants to get the education and employment skills necessary to move into vocational training, additional education, or employment.
- Pre-Employment Programs: The Fry Foundation funds a very limited number of highly effective pre-employment programs that help job seekers who have significant barriers to employment (e.g., history of homelessness, justice involvement) gain employment into entry-level jobs.
Responding to the Moment: After two-years of pandemic related disruption, we are seeing Fry Foundation partners respond to the broad needs of job seekers. This includes deepening their approaches to education and job training and serving participants who have more significant barriers to employment (e.g., justice involvement, mental health needs, large gaps of unemployment) than they have seen in the past. Our partners have made shifts in their program structures, staffing and the services they provide to support job seekers. They are now intentionally recruiting and building services for these participants while maintaining graduation, placement and job retention outcomes that surpass national averages. Below, we provide examples of how partners have developed innovative strategies to serve this population of job seekers.
Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC) offers manufacturing training on the north and west side. JARC is serving an increased number of people with criminal records (from 14% in FY2016 to 47% in FY2021). In early 2021, JARC began a new partnership with Rights and Restoration Law Group (RRLG) to provide legal consultations for its participants. RRLG has helped participants fully expunge/seal their records, file for petitions for criminal record expungement/sealing and provided participants with consultation to discuss other legal concerns. This partnership helps JARC’s participants understand the law and their rights - a crucial piece in helping JARC’s job seekers secure employment.
i.c.stars provides information technology training to 18-to-30-year- olds. i.c.stars is seeing an increase in the number of participants experiencing housing insecurity. In response, i.c.stars hired a social worker whose primary focus is helping participants secure housing. i.c.stars has also connected with staff at Inspiration Corporation (a pre-employment training partners) to gain more insight into the types of housing supports that could increase stability for participants.
Revolution Workshop provides training in the construction trades. Revolution Workshop has experienced an increase in participants requesting mental health support. In response to this, Revolution Workshop has developed referral partnerships with mental health providers and has worked to expand its Employee Assistance Program to support participants. Now both Revolution Workshop staff and its participants can access the support provided by the Employee Assistance Program.
Vocational training partners provide high quality skills training to job seekers so that they can gain access to middle-skilled jobs in a variety of growing industries. Below is one example of a longtime partner, Greater West Town Community Development Project, that embodies all the qualities that we look for in a strong vocational training program. The program is responsive to employer input into its curriculum; is preparing students for available jobs; and is placing its students in jobs that have a path to higher wages.
Vocational Training Partner in the Spotlight:
Greater West Town Community Development Project (GWTP) provides a Wood Products and Solid Surface Manufacturing program and a Shipping and Receiving program. GWTP is continually evaluating and modifying its program to ensure that it is providing its students with the skills needed to meet the demands of employers. GWTP has established two Employer Advisory Committees that help design the training curricula and keep GWTP staff up to date on industry changes to ensure students leave the training program with skills employers need. This past year, the Employer Advisory Committee suggested GWTP add training in wood finishing (e.g., stains, glazes) to meet increasing employer demand for these skills. GWTP secured additional support from the Foundation and others for the buildout of a finishing room at its current facility. The finishing room allows GWTP to provide comprehensive Wood Products training from start to finish – increasing opportunities for the job seekers it serves.
As always, the Fry Foundation Employment program staff will keep a close eye on workforce development and employment trends in Chicago. And we will work with our partners to respond to the most critical needs of those seeking to enter the workforce and to get on onto a career path that provides a living wage.