Wanna make a difference? Hire someone who is unemployed.
As I finished up my time at 1871, I had a wonderful opportunity to sit down with many of the people that I worked with and wish them well, and hear from them about their perspective on the experiences that we had together. These conversations were very meaningful for me. There are only so many times in somebody’s career when you get to sit down with your colleagues and friends and thank them and share memories and talk about the future and wish each other the absolute best.
There was a group of these conversations that were particularly meaningful, however, and those are the conversations that I had with a handful of employees from our staff who we hired through an organization called Skills for Chicagoland‘s Future. Skills, for those who don’t know, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping un- and underemployed Chicagoans find work. Skills has worked with thousands of jobseekers over the years and throughout has been an amazing organization that has helped innumerable Chicagoans recapitalize their careers and lives.
I have known Skills for Chicagoland’s Future since I was in Mayor Emanuel’s office, where we worked with them closely and where they were a key part in helping fill roles for companies that were expanding in Chicago. When our crew got to 1871, we decided that we were going to use Skills for Chicagoland’s Future as a partner in filling our positions, and we were able to do so very successfully, hiring seven people over the years from Skills at all levels of positions throughout the organization.
And so when it came time for me to take my leave from 1871 and I was talking with these employees, a lot of them reminded me that they had been hired through Skills for Chicagoland‘s Future. One of the interesting things about hiring folks through a program like this is that five seconds after they arrive, you forget entirely out how they got there. They are just part of the furniture, there is nothing about them that reminds you that they were once unemployed or that they came through this different program. There is no bias, they’re just another member of the team, performing their duties as well as possible.
But the appreciativeness of the jobs on the part of these employees is notable. For a lot of these folks, they articulated that getting this job actually helped them recapitalize their life in a very significant fashion. A couple of the employees actually indicated that they were pretty much at rock bottom, and didn’t know if the direction of their career or their life was going to go, until they got the job at 1871 through Skills for Chicagoland‘s Future. The result of this sort of appreciation is a level of loyalty and commitment that is hard to replicate. These folks appreciate the fact that they get to work at 1871 as much as any of us, and will forever tie their opportunity to work at 1871 with their ability to live their life in the fashion that they are hoping to. This is a really powerful combination.
For a lot of these folks, getting this job actually helped them recapitalize their life.
My call to action is this: what if every technology company and really every company in Chicago (or, frankly, everywhere) committed to interviewing at least one unemployed person for every open position that was available. All that I’m asking is that you would save at least one slot in the final round of interviews for an un- or underemployed person. This would have a profound impact on the city, the business community, the landscape, the future.
First of all, over 90 percent of the people that Skills works with meet an ethnic inclusion standard, so just the action of interviewing one Skills candidate in every group of interviewees would dramatically impact the overall diversity and inclusiveness of the community. It’s the law of numbers.
Second, we would collectively be making an enormous impact on many people who really need jobs and help. We would find ourselves collectively having a profound impact on the overall economic well-being of the community and really moving things forward in terms of Chicago’s overall economic goals.
Third, and most importantly, our companies will be more successful. Why is that? Because diverse and inclusive teams are more successful teams. We already know that. And Skills for Chicagoland’s Future and other organizations like it allow us to bring different perspectives to bear on our teams. Different experiences, different backgrounds, different places in life. Too often we find ourselves in the same sort of cycle of hiring our friends, hiring people with similar backgrounds to ourselves, and that chokes off our ability to create a fully inclusive environment brimming with different perspectives. We need those perspectives to be successful in business. Skills for Chicagoland’s Future offers a remarkable way of doing that.
We’re not just building businesses to make money for ourselves. We’re building our businesses for our community, for our employees, for our customers and for our collective future. There’s a whole segment of the population that is dying to work at our companies.
Let’s let them.