Job training program caters to an emerging group of unemployed

Only in its second year, Chicago Career Tech, a job training program for unemployed Chicagoans, is seeing the number of applicants grow exponentially. Unlike other programs, the nonprofit focuses its services on an emerging group of unemployed: Those who, until recent economic downturn, held a job earning middle-income wages.

Since its launch in 2010, roughly 2,400 people have applied for the program. The upcoming session alone has attracted up to 1,500 applicants vying for the 275 available spots. The demand was so much that the group extended the application deadline for the next session a full week to today at 5 p.m.

The secret for its success is that the program serves a specific population of unemployed who are not served by most job training programs, which typically intended for low-skill low-wage individuals. The applicants must have lost their jobs post-2008, previously earned $25,000 to $75,000, and are eligible for or have run out of unemployment insurance. For the upcoming session, the income limit was raised to $80,000. Many participants have years of experience in their field but lost long-term jobs that are unlikely to come back.

“We focus on the folks who've been most impacted by the recession and are not getting the services and training they need,” said Marie Lynch, president of Chicago Career Tech. In 2008 more people who earned $25,000 to $75,000 received unemployment insurance than any other income group by at least 5,000 recipients, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

The group was awarded $25 million in a grant from the city and also receives funding from the state and corporate foundations. Participants pay no tuition or fees to apply and represent a racially diverse group from different areas of the city, ranging in age from 23 to 69.

Henri Parker, 64, lost his job as an admissions counselor at Kaplan University in December 2008, leaving him with seven years of sales experience in an industry where he saw no future.

“Everything that I had heard about was for low income,” Parker said, referring to other job training services. “It offered a way to move away from sales. That’s why [Chicago Career Tech] was attractive to me.”

Parker volunteers three days a week for Leap Learning, an organization that promotes literacy from early childhood to high school, in a service-based learning phase of his program. He hopes to establish a career or start a business in social media and marketing once he graduates in November.

“I’m learning about a field that is growing and in demand now. I feel very positive about it.”

--Sachiko Yoshitsugu

© Community Renewal Society 2011

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