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Pivot to Success Program Opens Career Pathways for Young Adults in Chicago

June 09, 2020

By Julie Bos, ECMC Foundation Contributing Writer

Two years ago, 25-year-old Chicago resident Aijalon Jaddua believed that a satisfying career was out of reach. She was transitioning in and out of jobs with limited upward career trajectories. She wanted to pursue a higher education program, but the cost and time commitment posed a real challenge.

“I was very frustrated. I was unsure of my career goals,” she explained. “I would go from place to place, from school to school; I switched my major three or four times, and ended up leaving [college]. It was a mess.”

Fortunately, Aijalon discovered Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (Skills) and its pilot program Pivot to Success—a two-year career pathways program designed for high school graduates between the ages of 18 and 24 who may have completed some college coursework, but aren’t currently employed or enrolled in college full-time.

Partially funded by ECMC Foundation, Pivot to Success combines employment, postsecondary education, mentorship and additional support services as needed. It gives young adults opportunities to start stable, long-term jobs while simultaneously growing professionally by earning a degree or advanced certification.

Skills is intentional in its efforts to target populations from low-income, underserved backgrounds: The majority of Skills’ candidates are from South and West Side Chicago neighborhoods experiencing chronic unemployment, escalating crime rates and high levels of poverty. Many individuals in these neighborhoods struggle to secure adequate employment opportunities.

Acting as an intermediary, Skills bridges this “access gap” by providing a link between job seekers and the positions employers seek to fill.

Pivot to Success launched in early 2018 with Walgreens as its inaugural employer partner. Since then, Skills has seen high demand from local Chicagoland employers. To date, it has formally partnered with seven employers to map out and deliver career pathway programs for young adults. These include Walgreens, CDW, Freedman Seating Company, Rush University Medical Center, AT&T, Hyatt and McDonalds.   

After joining Pivot to Success, Aijalon became part of the initial cohort for McDonald’s and is featured in this short video. She has recently earned her associate degree from Harold Washington College, partially funded by McDonald’s, and is currently on McDonald’s management career track. Aijalon has long-term ambitions at McDonald’s and hopes to land a role in Public Relations or Communications at corporate headquarters. One day she even hopes to start her own organization that helps young people in her neighborhood find their career path.

“I felt so much relief when I found Skills and their program with McDonald’s,” said Aijalon. “I was able to get my degree and start a career at the same time. I finally feel like I’m on the right track."

The program’s success is due, in part, to Skills’ knowledge of what employers, like McDonald’s, want.

“When we built our first Pivot for Success partnerships, our team spent more than 250 hours in direct time with employers—consulting at great length to detail their business needs, career paths and training partnership,” said Kirsten Powers, Vice President, Development and Sustainability. “We aim to secure internal buy-in at all levels—from senior management to line supervisors to peer workers--those who can serve as internal mentors.”

The dual mentorship model of Pivot to Success is integral to the program's success. Participants partner up with a mentor at the workplace to support their transition into the job; and a second mentor within the community to receive one year of additional support while adjusting to the weight of job duties, coursework and personal obligations.

In addition, Skills continues to improve the program based on lessons learned. For example, Skills learned that young adults struggled to balance the simultaneous demands of starting a new job and enrolling in a higher education or training program. As a result, Skills implemented a 90-day gap between when a participant begins work and when he or she begins classes and/or training. This modification helped participants better balance and juggle their jobs and education/training.

To date, Skills has placed 144 participants into jobs through Pivot to Success. Of those, 22 participants have already exceeded 12 months of employment, and 40 participants have either earned an associate degree, or completed a key educational component, like Basic Nursing Assistant coursework, and are on their way to an associate degree.

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