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every youth ready for work

One major workforce issue for Evanston is connecting youth to careers — particularly those who do not choose four year college as their post-secondary plan.

the context for every youth

The connection between early learning and later successes is well documented by several longitudinal studies, as is the substantial return on investments made in children during the 0 to 3 years. This connection is the basis of the impact plan we launched in 2006. As the title suggests, the theme of our plan is changing systems in Evanston to ensure that all our children enter kindergarten prepared to succeed in school and to continue into lives as healthy, productive adults. ECF’s plan is among the early change initiatives to adopt this framework. Our grantmaking focus continues to be on the early years, but Foundation leaders are actively engaged in conversations about careers that do not require a conventional college degree. Read the Middle Skill Jobs report. 

the challenge

  • Nearly 30% of Evanston's high school graduates do not attend two or four-year college immediately after high school. And many who do begin college do not complete an associates or bachelors degree. 
  • Unemployment among young people, particularly young men, without post-secondary training and education is estimated to be as high as 25% nationally.

unclaimed opportunities: middle-skills jobs

According to the Skills2Compete report, Illinois’ Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs, middle-skill jobs are now the largest segment of jobs in our economy and are the highest-growth occupations in the region. Middle-skill jobs are defined as those jobs requiring some postsecondary training but not a bachelor’s degree. Examples include opportunities in high tech manufacturing; the building trades, such as plumbers and electricians; and many allied healthcare occupations, such as respiratory therapists, nurses and lab assistants.

improving connections to postsecondary opportunities

In 2009-2010, ECF worked with researcher Debi Chess Mabie to learn more about middle skills careers and how Evanston youth could better connect to them. The final report, Meaning and Connection in This Thing called Life: Educating Success-Ready Students noted the following key facts:

  • A significant number of jobs is projected for the coming years in the middle-skill sector. 
  • There are very real barriers to success in obtaining training for these jobs in terms of quality and accessibility of community college programs, proprietary school training programs, and apprenticeship programs. 
  • The most significant gaps in connecting young people to middle skills training and jobs are in perceptions of these career paths and in inadequate communication about the possibilities during the high school years.

The report’s recommendations were to:

  • Change our terminology: Use "success-ready", rather than "college-ready
  • Develop student "soft skills"
  • Start earlier: Focus on career exploration in middle school or earlier
  • Track students’ post-secondary paths
  • Create collaborative community efforts to support students in their pursuit of middle skills jobs

next steps: Evanston initiatives to improve readiness for the workforce

ECF is involved in community initiatives that are working toward the goal of every youth ready for work:

Read about the Evanston Cradle to Career initiative, a venture stemming from the initial community engagement process exploring the Strive model.

Read about our collaborative effort, Learn to Work, Work to Learn, one of the Evanston150 top 10 ideas. Similarly, ECF is one of the partners in the Youth Job Center’s convening efforts to pull together all local organizations involved in workforce. The goal is to create a clear picture of services offered, identifying gaps and encouraging better collaboration.