Spotlight: Workforce Development


Throughout its programs, UCAN integrates services designed to help clients build self-sufficiency and economic independence through education, workforce preparation and career advancement. The following are more in-depth descriptions of UCAN's workforce development programs:

Career Services Department

UCAN's Career Services Department works with hundreds of low-income youth and adults each year assisting them to improve their career paths and achieve the goal of long-term employment and self-sufficiency. Since 2006, UCAN's Career Services Department has worked with Chicago Housing Authority residents, helping them prepare for and secure jobs and/or enroll in transitional workforce programs.

Services include:

  • Job readiness support, such as: one-on-one career coaching, linking clients to education programs at all levels, customized skills training and certification programs
  • Job Readiness Training classes that include assessments, resume development, job search and job retention topics, mock interviewing and financial literacy
  • Job placement services through employer relationships and partner organizations
  • Supportive services to ensure clients have the necessary supports for employment such as transportation, childcare and interviewing attire
  • Individual and group job retention services that address mental health, behavioral, family and socio-economic life issues

Since January 2010

  • 234 clients age 18 and up have completed Job Readiness Training
  • 97 completed hard skills employment skills training
  • 114 achieved job placements retained for at least 30 days
  • 132 youth participated in a summer jobs program

Success story:
An adult client, R. P., completed UCAN's Job Readiness Training and continued to actively participate in UCAN Career Services resources available to him, although he had limited previous experience with temporary work. R.P. worked successfully with UCAN's team because of his willingness to follow through with goals and tasks outlined with him. He secured employment at McDonald's, and through UCAN's retention services, was given full-time status and became a candidate for assistant manager.


Career Services Partners

UCAN's Career Services team works with more than 30 employers, such as UPS, Amtrak, and Home Depot, in sectors including retail, food service, transportation, human services, and janitorial/maintenance.

UCAN works with more than 20 partner agencies that provide education, training, transitional jobs programs and job placement. For example, UCAN has referral relationships with the City Colleges of Chicago, Chicago Urban League, Employment & Employer Services, Inc. and other Workforce Investment Act (WIA) providers. UCAN ensures successful outcomes by assisting clients in meeting WIA program requirements. UCAN is also a member of the Chicago Jobs Council.

UCAN is also a partner with the Chicago Housing Authority in the statewide Put Illinois to Work initiative helping unemployed and underemployed residents secure short-term subsidized employment. Through this initiative, low-income young adults and parents are learning valuable workplace skills while supporting their families. As of October 2010, UCAN has more than doubled its goal, enrolling 308 people in this transitional jobs program.

STARS Program

"Being in the STARS program helped me to realize in what direction I wanted to take my life. Through STARS and the opportunities thereafter, I was inspired to finish school
so that I can maximize my potential in my field of interest." - former STAR

STARS (Striving to Achieve Realistic Success) is a year-long career development and leadership program for alumni, ages 20-23, of the child welfare system. The STARS program is designed to improve work ethic and career focus through hands-on experience, extensive job readiness and workplace skills training. Upon graduation, 90% of STARS participants are employed.

STARS participants complete a full-time paid internship, receiving over 100 hours of intensive training and leading more than 50 hours of community service and outreach projects. Participants develop strong problem-solving and public speaking skills and visit dozens of companies to advance career knowledge and professional connections. A recent survey of STARS graduates showed more than 70% enrolled in school and 73% currently employed.

 STARS @ Private Bank
Current STARS visit The PrivateBank

"It is a family away from a family you never really had. I was able to walk away with computer skills, how to dress for interviews, writing skills and to network with others from different companies." - former STAR

Youth Ready Chicago Program

During the summers of 2009 and 2010 UCAN, in partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority and the City of Chicago, operated Youth Ready Chicago, a workforce development program for youth ages 14 to 24. The program enrolled more than 300 youth over the two years.

UCAN's Youth Ready Chicago projects provided youth with educational experiences and paid work placements that taught important skills such as career exploration, critical thinking, creative expression, public speaking, writing, math and business etiquette.

UCAN work projects included:

  • computer certification
  • college preparation, professional and life skills
  • environmental awareness and urban gardening
  • leadership roles in programs for younger youth
  • music creation and music business development
  • creative arts such as writing and mural art
  • literature, media and social justice projects

As youth completed the summer program UCAN linked them to fall and winter programming, employment opportunities and other opportunities such as education and training.

           Altgeld Mural
Altgeld Gardens mural created by 25 youth in the 2010 Youth Ready Chicago Program

Learn & Earn Program

In partnership with the City of Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority, UCAN operated Learn & Earn, a summer program with a goal of reducing summer learning loss, increasing academic achievement and improving the educational and career development outcomes of youth ages 13-15 living in Chicago Housing Authority developments.

In the summer of 2010, 215 youth enrolled and 88% successfully completed the program with no disciplinary or attendance issues. Learn & Earn combined morning educational sessions with afternoon career development sessions. Youth explored the healthcare, IT, transportation/logistics, manufacturing, and hospitality/tourism industries through hands-on activities and projects. They created their future resumes and produced videos of commercials they wrote for their tourism marketing campaign. Youth enjoyed field trips to increase their cultural knowledge of the city and give practical experience with the various industries they were studying.

In addition to the programs listed above UCAN also serves clients through a continuum of services including:

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