Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council plans local workforce development at summer meeting

Longtime Chair of ETHS’s Careers and Technical Education Department, Shelley Gates, receives a retirement gift from Neil Gambow at Wednesday’s meeting of the Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council. Hope Stovall, right, will replace Gates effective July 1. Credit: Duncan Agnew

With inflation outpacing wage growth and the global economy changing rapidly every day, it’s more important than ever to prepare young Evanstonians for the job market and give them the tools they need to succeed in their careers. , community leaders agreed at a meeting of the Mayor’s Employers’ Advisory Council on Wednesday. Council (MEAC) held at Evanston Township High School.

“It’s about finding opportunity for those who have sometimes been deprived of opportunity in this community, and when people are deprived of opportunity in this community, it has all kinds of vicious consequences – for opportunity, for life. ‘fairness, for safety – across the council,” Mayor Daniel Biss said in his opening remarks. “It’s also about kick-starting the economic recovery at a time when we really need it.”

More than 60 local business owners, public school administrators and nonprofit directors discussed the city’s recent investments to improve vocational and technical education for young people in Evanston. It included: Mayor Daniel Biss, former Mayor Steve Hagerty, retired ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon and new Superintendent Marcus Campbell.

“My message is very simple this morning,” said Witherspoon, who retired in a week. “We are here because we have the opportunity to touch the future. … Young people need support. Young people have always needed support, but right now we really are in a very rapidly changing economy.

Neil Gambow, chairman and longtime Chicago-area business executive, said the city — along with Evanston/Skokie District 65 and ETHS District 202 — wants to expose young people to lifelong learning pathways. non-traditional careers that go beyond simply earning a bachelor’s degree. diploma.

In October 2021, U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth, D-IL, visited ETHS and met with Evanston business leaders to support new investments in workforce development and skills training.

And in his interviews with students, parents, and the school board before officially securing the position of next superintendent, Campbell said post-high school planning is one of ETHS’s top four priorities, along with the literacy, racial equity and social-emotional learning.

Biss also said collaboration across sectors is what makes programs like MEAC possible. He thanked city staff for their dedication at a time when “it’s hard to be a city worker” due to the pandemic and staffing shortages.

Later, attendees heard first-hand about some of the people developing job shadowing and career experiences for students. At ETHS alone, students can take electives in robotics, engineering, manufacturing, welding, and even a course called Geometry in Construction, where ninth-graders learn geometry by building a house during the academic year.

Since the ETHS launched this class, inspired by the one developed at the school in Colorado, the students have built seven different houses on vacant land donated by the city. The result is additional affordable housing for residents, according to Shelley Gates, chair of the vocational and technical training department, who is set to retire next week after 18 years in the role.

“What we’ve been able to do in terms of educating students about multiple paths to success is amazing to me,” Gates said. “The way the world is now is so important.

“That’s what kept me going all these years, knowing that even an experience at one of your workplaces has the potential to change a student’s life, and I know that sounds really dramatic. , but I actually saw it happen.”

Over the past two years, Tana Francellno, Head of Career Partnerships at ETHS, has helped develop the iKit Job Shadow week, for sophomores, juniors and seniors. Students spend spring break shadowing workers in different industries. This year, 26 students were with nine different employers for the week and received a stipend, via money collected by the ETHS Foundation.

Eight students were at NorthShore University HealthSystem, and seven of them are interning there this summer, according to NorthShore’s diversity, equity and inclusion manager, Susan Plattner.

Oakton Community College Vice President of Academic Affairs Ileo Lott and Director of Workforce and Strategic Partnerships Ruben Howard also spoke on Wednesday about opportunities for ETHS students at Oakton. .

For example, Oakton is part of a statewide grant program called the Workforce Equity Initiative that connects youth to jobs, Lott said. Individuals from specific area zip codes can apply for a full scholarship and $1,000 stipend to train in a specific field in Oakton.

Oakton also recently founded the Emory Williams Academy for Black Men to connect men with internships, job opportunities and networking experiences, according to Howard.