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  • Even apprenticeships are hard to come by for women and minorities

    A few big firms in Chicago are taking steps to diversify their workforces through apprentice programs that break down color and gender barriers to midlevel jobs. But federal data shows those are still the exception.

    John R. Boehm

    Corinthian Holder

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    79彩票注册网址Just a few years removed from a low-paid, dead-end job as a security guard, Tiffany Spraggins of Chicago now holds a full-time, salaried position as a tech worker, complete with benefits, at consulting giant Accenture.

    The break for Spraggins, a 32-year-old single mother of three, began with an apprenticeship program she entered through the Wilbur Wright campus of City Colleges of Chicago. The Northwest Side school provided her with training, financial support and an entree into Accenture's workforce.

    79彩票注册网址"I never would have been recruited for this job on my own because I didn't have the experience or educational background," she says. "I'm so grateful. Life is now so much easier. I'm making more than I ever would and can even work three days a week from home."

    As an African American woman, however, Spraggins' initial step on to the corporate ladder is a glaring exception, not the rule, according to federal data on apprenticeships compiled by Young Invincibles, a nonprofit that advocates to expand economic opportunities for young people.

    79彩票注册网址Because it provides technical assistance and some funding for job training, the U.S. Department of Labor tracks so-called registered apprenticeships in 25 states, Illinois included. The data both in Illinois and the other states shows that apprenticeships today, as they have stretching back to medieval times, remain largely dominated by white men.

    In 2017, according to the data compiled by Young Invincibles, Illinois had roughly 15,000 active registered apprentices across 431 programs, mostly in the building trades. Of those, just 4 percent were women and roughly 10 percent were black.

    As more companies across industries are using apprenticeships as a way to build up and retain a talented workforce, it could open an opportunity to “to put long-term employment within reach of young people and people of color,” said Erin Steva, Midwest director of Young Invincibles who has focused her research on apprenticeships.

    Though often confused, apprenticeships and internships are very different work experiences for the young, and there is no official tracking of internships, which tend to be short-term and often geared toward providing bullet points on a résumé rather than a job. Apprenticeships, on the other hand, can lead to a structured pathway to a full-time career in a given industry.

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    79彩票注册网址There is one similarity between the two. Traditionally, securing both internships and apprenticeships has depended largely on word-of-mouth and who you or your parents know, a situation that favors white men. The apprenticeships offered through City Colleges aim to change that dynamic, but data shows it is still an uphill task.

    79彩票注册网址Unequal access to apprenticeships is symptomatic of a larger racial jobs gap, one that has only widened in the past two decades.

    79彩票注册网址In 2016, black unemployment in Chicago was worse than it was during the Great Depression of the 1930s, according to a report from the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Research on Race & Public Policy. While black unemployment has historically been two to three times as much as white unemployment, it was four times higher from 1990 to 2016, the most recent data available.

    The loss of manufacturing jobs in the 1980s left a void on the South and West sides, one that was never replaced with the emergence of other industries like tech and finance, according to Stacey Sutton, assistant professor of urban planning and policy at the UIC.

    79彩票注册网址"Chicago is becoming untenable for black and poor people to live in," Sutton says. "This has been a situation decades in the making."

    79彩票注册网址That lack of opportunity is one factor behind a steep decline in the city's black population in recent years.

    No single change can reverse that trend, but plentiful apprenticeships could serve as a critical tool to build a more diverse workforce, providing a pathway to long-term employment with competitive wages and benefits. Graduates of registered apprenticeships earned an average of $50,000 a year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

    79彩票注册网址Some companies and nonprofits have successfully worked to bring more people of color into apprenticeships.

    Accenture and professional services firm Aon both offer apprenticeship programs through a partnership with the City Colleges system, providing a natural pool of diversity with a student population that is 75 percent black and Hispanic. More than half of the apprentices at the two companies are people of color.

    79彩票注册网址Diversity wasn't the initial focus of either firm's program, both launched in 2016 as a way to fill middle-skilled positions that require more than a high school degree but less than a college degree.

    79彩票注册网址"Our apprenticeships will be key to how we continue to grow and gain talent in the future," says Jim Coleman, senior managing director of Accenture's Chicago office. "It's a win-win for business and the workforce."

    Businesses all over the country have struggled with the so-called middle-skills gap: In Illinois, 53 percent of jobs require these skills, yet only 42 percent of the workforce is trained at that level, according to the National Skills Coalition, a national group advocating for job skills training. Filling that gap has led some firms to target recruitment outside of four-year colleges.

    "We did a really thoughtful scan of all our positions and identified jobs in (human resources) and (information technology), for example, where a four-year college degree wasn't required, just a person that's smart and driven," says Bridget Gainer, vice president of global affairs at Aon. Gainer is also a Cook County commissioner whose district spans many of the city's North Side neighborhoods.

    Aon and Accenture teamed up in 2017 to create the Chicago Apprentice Network as a way to encourage the city's top employers to start their own apprenticeships. So far, more than 40 companies, among them McDonald's and Walgreens, have signed on with the goal of creating 1,000 apprenticeships by year-end.

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    As such programs grow, it could open more workplace opportunities for women and people of color. Even so, these firms face no requirements to be more inclusive in choosing apprentice candidates.

    79彩票注册网址Inequality in apprenticeships is especially pronounced in the building trades, which offer the vast majority of apprenticeships.

    "More often than not, getting an apprenticeship is about who you know," says Jay Rowell, executive director of a newly formed Chicago nonprofit, Hire360, which aims to connect underserved communities to jobs in the building trades.

    79彩票注册网址Hire360 partners with Chicago-area unions and developers to offer a one-stop shop for people to get training and placement assistance.

    The nonprofit is intentionally recruiting among residents of the South and West sides. In just months, Rowell says, the group has fielded 2,600 applications with at least 3 out of 4 filed by people identifying themselves as black or Hispanic.

    Among those is Corinthian Holder, a 40-year-old former trucker from the South Shore neighborhood who wanted to pursue a career in carpentry. Trucking, he explains, didn't pay well unless "you're willing to work long hours." Holder has a 4-year-old daughter to think about and says carpentry offered the prospect of a better-paying career with union benefits.

    Holder thought he'd have no problem finding an apprenticeship given he had completed a preliminary step where he received a crash course in carpentry in addition to job safety training. He sent out over 30 applications to work sites around Chicago, but weeks went by without hearing anything back.

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    79彩票注册网址Then, after seeing a 79彩票注册网址 ad from Hire360, he filled out an application and was placed on a work site in less than two weeks.

    "This could really change Chicago," he says of the nonprofit. "Too many people out there needing a chance get overlooked."

    79彩票注册网址Still, nonprofits and individual firms only offer patchwork solutions without ensuring that the city is equitably building its workforce across industries. As Chicago builds up these programs, it needs to make sure that the opportunities are broadly available to underserved communities, Young Invincibles' Steva says.

    Other cities and states have taken the lead in this regard. In Boston, for example, city-funded projects are required to have 25 percent of workforce hours allotted to people of color and 10 percent to women. Oregon has set numeric targets for gender and racial diversity of apprentices in building trades.

    79彩票注册网址"Apprenticeships, if done right, can connect people to careers in ways that work to reverse gender and racial inequities," Steva says. "We're just barely scratching the surface of their potential."

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