We sat down with Cyndi Stewart, a member of the West Pullman Community Action Group and leader of its Workforce Development Project Team, to chat about the CAG’s collaborative efforts to grow a stable workforce within the neighborhood. What we learned? Great progress is underway.


Q: Why did you get involved with the West Pullman Community Action Group?

A: My family moved to West Pullman when I was five. I grew up here. My first job was at Roseland Community Hospital. I lived here until I graduated from college and then I returned in 1999 to be with my mother again. I have seen what this community has been and I know what we can be and that’s why I’m a member of the West Pullman Community Action Group.


Q: Why did the Community Action Group decide to develop a Workforce Development Team? 

A: We spent a lot of time surveying residents of West Pullman to learn what they want to see happen in our community. One of our most definitive findings was that access to jobs and job training is one of the most critical issues facing the community. We developed the Workforce Development Team to begin to address this issue and drive change for our neighbors. 


Q: What are the identified values of a developed workforce in West Pullman? 

A: Oh, there are so many! Raise the median household income. Reduce crime. Improve property value. Attract more quality employers.


Q: What was your initial strategy to develop a strong West Pullman workforce?

A: We believed that a job fair would be the most effective way to start. To make a fair a reality, we first surveyed the community to determine the demographics of unemployed West Pullman residents. Then, we planned the logistics of the fair alongside many local community partners. Once that was set, we completed outreach in our community to folks who are currently unemployed and sought employers to attend who had jobs that would match the skills, experience, and interests of these job seekers who might attend. 


Q: Tell us a little more about the job fairs you have been a part of to date.  

A: So far, we’ve been involved with two! We hosted the “Back2Work Job Fair” just about a year ago and six months ago we partnered for a larger hiring fair with ThriveChicago 100K and a number of other stakeholders.


Q: How many folks attended each?

A: At our first we had about 85 jobseekers turn out and at the most recent we had over 400!   


Q: Tell us a bit more about the jobseekers. 

A: At Back2Work we had a very diverse turnout. Men and women of all ages. About half were unemployed. Others came out because they weren’t earning enough to support themselves, so were seeking a second job to supplement their incomes or a career advancement to earn more. All of our 2016 attendees had a high level of education – about 30% completed high school; 60% attended or completed college; and 10% attended or completed graduate school. 

Our second fair was targeted specifically at minority youth, ages 16-24, who live on the far south side. It’s critical to set our young people up for success by obtaining stable employment early on. 


Q: Who are some of the employers that were offering jobs at the fairs? 

A: We’ve worked with over 50 vendors, but to name a few: Brown & MacNeal Preservation, Crawford Broadcasting Company, Spik & Span Cleaning Services, GameLoot Network, Walgreens, Jewel Osco, Macy’s, Chipotle, and Potbelly. 


Q: So the big question – what were the results of the fairs?   

A: I think back to what we accomplished and I’m so proud. We had an excellent turnout, great representation. Every single attendee left with a strong job lead, new skills, or access to new training resources. We even had people get jobs the day of the fairs.  We had people asking us when we’re going to do another, so they could come back to keep improving their skills or tell their friends and family about it. And above all, I think the hope of a chance at a new start that many people expressed is what matters above all else.


Q: Is there something you are particularly proud of with these fairs?  

A: Well, of course seeing people leave the fairs with new jobs, as well as practice at interviewing and being connected to job training resources. But also the successful collaboration that went into the planning and execution of the event. There were so many organizations and individuals dedicated to making the fairs a success and that wanted to contribute whatever they could to make it happen. 


Q: Who were some of the partners that came together? 

A: Oh, it’s quite a list but to start: The Workforce Development Team of the West Pullman Community Action Group, Habitat for Humanity Chicago, Sustainable Options for Urban Living, Inc., Ald. Carrie Austin and the 34th Ward office, SS Peter & Paul Church, Christ Universal Temple and Rev. Dr. Derrick Wells, Leadership Lighthouse, DESI –Chicago Heights Workforce Center, TREADS, CPS CAPS, and the Chicago – Cook Workforce Partnership, and CHI100K.


Q: What did you learn from these fairs and how have they shaped your future plans to continue to develop a strong West Pullman workforce? 

A: More network collaboration, less redundancy. We have refined our strategy to be more of a booster and communication channel that works to connect our residents with hiring fairs throughout the year, especially those that target special populations, i.e youth, people over age 55, those seeking re-entry, and so on. Partnering with these professionals already engaged in workforce development produces more employers and allows for a greater reach, so that is what we are going to continue to do.


Learn more about the West Pullman neighborhood and how you can get involved to make it stronger. 

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