Skills for Chicagoland’s Future matches job seekers to UChicago Medicine positions

When Hyde Park resident Kevin Roberson was hospitalized for more than a month at the University of Chicago Medicine in 2013, he was impressed by the care and attention he received. Recently laid off from a 14-year job in law enforcement, Roberson also concluded that the medical center would be a great place to work.

A short time later, he happened upon an ad for Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, a nonprofit that matches employers that have unmet hiring needs with qualified unemployed or underemployed job seekers. After a rigorous training and preparation process with the nonprofit, Roberson was hired as a public safety coordinator for the medical center. He was in the running with more than 50 applicants and believes he was able to stand out because of Skills’ process.

“If it wasn’t for Skills for Chicagoland’s Future I couldn’t see myself in this position,” said Roberson, who had been unemployed for nearly a year before he landed the job.

UChicago Medicine began working with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future in April 2014 and has hired 20 employees through the program, including Roberson. In April 2015, the University of Chicago announced that it would expand the partnership, through its UChicago Local initiative, to help match more South Side residents to jobs at the University.

Bob Hanley, vice president and chief human resources officer at UChicago Medicine, says the partnership so far has benefited those employees and the medical center. “We value the quality candidates we receive because of the screening and training Skills for Chicagoland’s Future provides,” said Hanley, who helped forge UChicago’s relationship with the organization.

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future has roots dating back to its start in 2009 as a career-training program called Chicago Career Tech, which incubated at World Business Chicago. Its program is distinct in that it focuses on partnering with companies to fill specific job openings. Funded by public and private dollars, there is no fee to employers. The organization’s overall three-year goal is a total of 5,000 placements across the city, with a significant uptick by 2017.

Skills consults with employers to understand their hiring needs, obtain a commitment to hire and then screen potential candidates. When there is a need for training, usually in fields such as health care or technology, Skills partners with job readiness agencies.

Successful job candidates are committed to this process. Roberson, for instance, had an initial phone interview with Skills as part of his intake. He later participated in a group interview process in person at Skills before he interviewed with UChicago Medicine.

Making the ‘right match’

When UChicago Medicine began working with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, the medical center committed to fill 40 positions, according to Hanley. Skills has presented 60 candidates, and a third of them have been hired.

“We continue to drive to our goal, and that is a very important part of measuring the success of our relationship,” Hanley said. “Most importantly, our retention rate is more than 90 percent.

Skills president and CEO Marie Trzupek Lynch noted, “Our clients include people who have been unemployed for six months or longer. We find there is a greater loyalty factor among this group, so retention is higher.”

Skills not only works to place candidates but also tracks how they are doing once they are hired. The organization reviews each employee’s status at 30 and 90 days on the job and conducts surveys with the employee and employer.

“We emphasize making the ‘right match’ between employer and candidate. These mechanisms help us to do that,” said Lynch, who has a master’s degree from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy.

Working close to home

Anna Pearson, another UChicago Medicine employee, believes both Skills and the medical center were the right match for her. Pearson, who lives on the southwest side of the city, worked in security at downtown office buildings for more than eight years, floating between four different buildings on a random schedule. Skills’ office is in one of those buildings, and one day Pearson stopped in and gave them her resume.

Pearson had two interviews with Skills, followed by a phone interview with UChicago Medicine, and then a two-hour in-person interview. Within two weeks she was offered a public safety coordinator position.

“Now, rather than traveling between buildings downtown, I work just over 10 minutes from home,” Pearson said.

Like Roberson and Pearson, many of the candidates Skills presents to UChicago Medicine are South Side residents. More than 75 percent are African American and, of the 20 placements, nearly a dozen are residents of the mid- to far-South Side.

“Meaningful employment benefits both the employee and our community,” said Derek Douglas, the University of Chicago’s vice president for civic engagement. “The University partners with organizations like Skills for Chicagoland’s Future to create opportunities for local residents, which sstrengthens the economy in local neighborhoods while leveraging the skills and talents of the community.”

Roberson, the Hyde Park resident, now has been with UChicago Medicine since May 2014. He said he can relate to the people who come to the medical campus based on what he went through as a patient.

“Public safety is about interacting with a lot of people on a daily basis,” he explained. “I never thought I’d be in this position, but I’m humbled because I’m able to help others and show them the same sense of caring I received here.”