Five thousand jobs in five years. That was the aim of Opportunity Chicago in 2006 when it set out to help 5,000 public housing residents prepare for and find quality jobs by the end of 2010. Opportunity Chicago exceeded its goal by placing almost 5,200 Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) residents in employment.
Opportunity Chicago was a collaborative of government agencies, foundations, nonprofit organizations and employers. This $27.5 million initiative was developed jointly by CHA, the City of Chicago and The Partnership for New Communities (PNC), a group of business, civic and foundation partners that supported the people and places most affected by CHA’s 15-year Plan for Transformation (The Plan).
Driven by The Plan, an unprecedented endeavor to transform public housing, Opportunity Chicago was a comprehensive effort to connect low-skilled public housing residents to employment and redefine how Chicago’s public workforce development system serves all low-skilled, low-income job seekers. Opportunity Chicago’s overarching strategic priorities were to simultaneously:
- Expand and enhance the existing workforce service delivery system to maximize employment opportunities for CHA residents;
- Promote innovative employment skills and training programs;
- Engage employers in the design and execution of sector- or industry-based partnerships;
- Advocate for public policies that support sustainable improvements to the public workforce development system;
- Evaluate the initiative’s effectiveness and determine the relevance of its model for other low-income communities and populations.
Opportunity Chicago was collaborative by design, with PNC, CHA and the Chicago Jobs Council at the coordinating center. The partners convened the Strategic Advisers Group (SAG) to develop comprehensive, career-focused workforce development strategies for CHA residents. The SAG’s role was advisory – to provide expertise and knowledge of best practices, to review plans and activities, to provide other resources as appropriate, and to advocate for public policy and systems change.
In July 2012, Opportunity Chicago released Opportunity Chicago 2006-2010: Improving Access to Employment for Public Housing Residents in Chicago, a final evaluation of the initiative, and the companion report, The Promise and Challenge of Transitional Jobs. A few key outcomes were:
- 5,185 residents placed in jobs
- 54 percent retained employment for two or more years
- 23 percent of those placed in jobs had not worked in the two years prior to accessing Opportunity Chicago programs
- 926 residents completed certificate and degree programs through City Colleges of Chicago
- 345 participated in Industry Skills Training
- 1,260 participated in a Transitional Job and 80 percent transitioned into unsubsidized employment
- $27.5 million invested over 5 years
- Over 85 percent of funding spent on funding work readiness, skills training, and job placement
Opportunity Chicago ended December 2010, but its dedicated partners will continue to help ensure that programs and services established through Opportunity Chicago are integrated into the public workforce development system, funding streams are better aligned and resources are used more efficiently. These partners will also use the lessons learned from Opportunity Chicago to inform federal and state advocacy.
To view all Opportunity Chicago publications, click here.