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Chapter 4: When and Why to Leverage the Workforce Ecosystem

This blog post is a DRAFT chapter for a book being published by Origami Works Foundation. We will correct inaccuracies in the final book version. If you identify any inaccuracies, please let us know using this Feedback Form.

Now that you’ve learned what workforce development is all about, and what makes the Chicago / Cook County workforce ecosystem such a unique and robust environment, you might be asking yourself: Why should my organization get involved? And when? 

These are some big questions. By the end of this chapter, you will have learned … 

  • The types of talent problems business services partners can help solve

  • An overview and examples of common business services that you can engage

  • Eight reasons to leverage the workforce ecosystem 

When Should Employers Engage?

You should engage with the workforce ecosystem when it can tangibly benefit your organization. This is most likely to be the case when your organization is experiencing challenges or opportunities in the area of talent management – the sourcing, onboarding, experience, and retention of employees. business services partners can be a vital ally for those organizations looking to take advantage of the opportunities available to them.

"Talent management" refers to the strategic process of attracting, developing, retaining, and deploying skilled individuals within an organization to meet current and future business needs effectively. It involves identifying and nurturing talent, aligning individual capabilities with organizational goals, and creating an environment conducive to employee growth and success.

Talent management is a far-reaching job. It encompasses the most obvious functions of human resources (recruiting and hiring). It also involves making sure current employees have the right skills to meet the needs of the business (training and development) and keeping employees on the job (retention and inclusion). 

The workforce ecosystem can help in all of these areas. The graphic below summarizes key categories of talent management, and the related business services that business services partners can offer. The next sections will elaborate on the available business services in each category. 

Recruiting and Hiring

Hiring can be the most visible (and one of the most time-consuming) responsibilities of the talent management function. Traditional, or non-supported, hiring efforts often look like this: 

  1. A job description is posted publicly on a site such as Indeed or LinkedIn.

  2. Hundreds of unqualified applicants flood the inbox of the hiring manager, or sometimes the opposite: no one applies.

  3. Whether aided by technology or not, the hiring team spends hours combing through repetitive applications to try to find the right candidates to proceed to the next phase.

  4. After a round of interviews, the hiring manager takes a leap of faith that the person they are hiring is the best possible choice.

Engaging with a business services partner can take much of the time, risk, and guesswork out of traditional hiring practices, all while uncovering hidden talent pools that previously have been underutilized. 

The remainder of this section describes different hiring scenarios in which a business services partner might offer considerable value. 

Entry Level Positions

Entry level positions are a common way to begin a partnership with a business services partner. Entry level work requires little previous experience or educational background, and enables employers to onboard talent that can go on to a career path within the organization. 

“For those with little to no experience, we have positions in bagging, carts, and stocking. With more skills and experience, employees become cashiers, or they begin to develop an understanding of how the store operates–how product moves, accounting, pricing, etc.” Alita Bezanis, Director of Organizational Development, Pete’s Fresh Market

Workforce partners can be deeply embedded in a community, and have ready-to-work candidates that an employer might not locate through traditional means. Alita partnered with workforce organizations to source candidates for her open roles. 

MERGE, a Chicago-based full-service digital marketing agency, has entry level roles that offer certification pathways for software such as Marketo, Salesforce, and Sitecore. The company seeks aligned values, skills, and potential rather than degrees. 

“Many of our junior-level roles do not require a college degree. Mostly, we're looking for somebody who aligns with our values of ability, agility, and humility, and someone who showcases curiosity.” Kerry Griffin, Chief Talent Officer, MERGE

For some entry level roles, a college degree is required or valued. Workforce partners can help expand the talent pool from whom hiring managers can consider candidates. MERGE partners with CareerSpring to source first-generation and low-income college graduates for junior talent in their finance, account management, performance marketing, media and creative departments. Kerry says, “We have been working with CareerSpring for a few years now, and they have essentially become an extension of our recruitment team - finding and vetting talent from their network. They understand our landscape, and know our talent needs and expectations.” 

Multiple Positions

Another opportunity to engage with a business services partner is when you are doing large amounts of hiring for similar positions. For example, an employer opening a call center will have a need for many new employees in a similar position and geographic location. Workforce partners in Chicago and suburban Cook County are often neighborhood-based and able to connect you with local folks who are ready to work. 

“As a rule of thumb, when the volume of hiring is countable on one or two hands, I find it better to transact for talent through traditional methods like job postings, employee referral programs, or using a recruiter. However, when an organization starts using fingers and toes to count the number of openings, and they lack confidence in the hiring process–essentially, they are doing the equivalent of ‘post and pray’--it’s time to attempt new approaches offered by workforce development. … [E]ngaging in workforce development could significantly deepen the shallow talent pool for the long term.” Van Ton-Quinlivan, Workforce Rx, p. 24

Heather Ronnow of Kronos Foods recalls that when she was first hired, she needed help with filling multiple positions: “The company was growing dramatically, which meant that we had to consider innovative ways of attracting and retaining employees.” Workforce partner Cara Collective was able to “draw attention to populations that are available for work and interested in work.” Cara connected Kronos with a larger pool of candidates who had already been vetted and educated about the jobs available at Kronos. Success!


Temporary Hires

If you are not necessarily recruiting for a permanent position, but are looking for a bit of temporary help while also expanding your talent pool, internships are a great way to reach upcoming student talent before they reach the wider job market. 

An internship is a professional learning experience in which students explore a career related to their area of interest or study. Because internships are typically designed to be staffed by current students, they are usually conducted either as a full-time position over the summer, or as a part-time position corresponding with a school semester or quarter. 

For example, Toby Eveland, head of talent for a law firm, recruits diverse talent through internships and summer associate gigs. Kerry Griffin of MERGE found a sweet spot partnership with CareerSpring, a source of first-generation college students.

“Over a two year period, we hired 24 students into the Keystone Summer Internship Program. The quality of the experience on both sides was so positive that 10 of the 24 were offered full-time positions following their internships. That’s over 40%!” Kerry Griffin, Chief Talent Officer, MERGE

While employers often associate internships with college or graduate level students, this strategy can work for entry level talent also. For example, Marisela of Freedman Seating forged partnerships with organizations such as Manufacturing Connect and Jane Addams Resource Corporation (JARC), offering high schoolers immersive experiences in the world of manufacturing jobs.

Quality internship programs can be challenging to plan and manage! A business services partner can make it easier to source (diverse) candidates, make hiring decisions based on deep knowledge of the talent pool, and support interns with coaching and professional development once they are on the job. 

“We were very excited that Origami Works and Cafe LEAD created community experiences for our interns and for our team. Interns can often join an organization and feel isolated. It was important to us that our interns were connected to a network of peers and that they could talk through their shared experiences. … As administrators we benefited from the planning discussions with our partners about the internship process and frequent check-in discussions.” - Kimberly Coady Hawkins, Director of Advancement, UtmostU

Training and Development

But what about positions that require some specialized skills or pre-knowledge? Many business services partners do specialize in connecting employers with talent that have acquired skills from previous employment or through training programs that they themselves have provided. 

For opportunities that require even more specialized skills or have a limited talent pipeline, there are several hiring models that may be a great fit for your talent needs: apprenticeships, internships, and customized train-to-hire programs are all solutions that can be used to ensure a good hire. Let’s take a deeper look at what these programs are, and when they are a good fit.

Customized Train-to-Hire

Customized train-to-hire programs are created in collaboration between employers and business services partners. An employer connects with a business services partner to identify and define gaps in their team. The business services partner and employer collaborate to develop a training program that will give talent the skills they need to be qualified for the open position(s). Finally, the business services partner recruits candidates into the training program and guides them through to completion, upon which time they are ready to begin work. 

This model is especially effective when an employer has many specialized positions to fill, and needs to accelerate time to productivity. At Pete’s Fresh Market, for example, turnover rates were very high, particularly among the cashier team. With guidance from a business services partner, the organization introduced a streamlined two-day onboarding process tailored specifically for cashiers, set up a dedicated training workstation, and implemented a weekly training program. According to Alita Bezanis, Director of Organizational Development, “The results have been remarkable. Not only have our retention rates improved significantly, but our cashiers have also grown more adept at handling customer interactions and their overall responsibilities.” 

Community colleges are one category of partner that can develop customized programs. Collaboration can ensure students are equipped with the right skills and certifications. 

“Our partnership with local employers, such as Method Soap and Whole Foods, involves creating tailored training that prepares our graduates to be standout candidates from the start. By choosing to work with us, employers gain access to a prepared, skilled workforce ready to make an immediate impact.” Joachim Borha, Director of Grants Administration, Olive-Harvey College

These programs don’t necessarily follow a traditional academic calendar. For example, at Olive-Harvey College, students can complete a forklift certification in four days. 


Upskilling involves training employees that are already part of your team to either move into another position within your organization that is more in demand, or to fill a newly created position. Upskilling is similar to customized train-to-hire programs, but without the recruiting aspect. It is a strategy often employed to avoid layoffs of employees whose skill sets might be trending out of date. 

Workforce partners can work with you to design a training program that meets the needs of your current employees so that they can continue on a career path within your organization. If you are able to avoid layoffs of underutilized team members, many business services partners can help you access governmental subsidies that can offset the cost of training or wages that are paid during training. 


Apprenticeships, according to the Chicago Apprentice Network, are “earn-and-learn” programs that “combine formal learning (e.g. in-person, virtual or computer-based training) with paid, on-the-job training experiences.” Apprenticeships are a great way for employers to develop their talent pipeline and ensure that they have quality candidates for their business needs. Apprenticeship programs open up opportunities to candidates who may not have the interest or ability to attend a traditional school or training program, as it includes paid work during the learning period. 

Apprenticeship programs have been common in the trades (i.e. manufacturing, plumbing, carpentry, etc.), but are quickly gaining momentum in many industries where specialized skillsets are needed, such as financial service or early childhood education.

For example, Aon launched an apprenticeship program in 2017. To apply, applicants must be 18 or older and possess a high school diploma or its equivalent. Over two years, apprentices earn a salary and benefits while pursuing an associate degree from an accredited partner college. Apprentices are full-time Aon employees, dedicating 40 hours per week, spending part of the week working at Aon and part of the week attending classes to complete an associate degree with a concentration in business. Aon covers tuition costs and fees, while non-profit partners foster a system of support outside of the workplace.

“My mentor Bridget Gainer tells the story of how she could see Harold Washington college from her office window. And it occurred to her, why do we not recruit from that school? Wouldn't it be great to employ people from the local area? With that notion, Aon considered the question of what roles do not require a four-year degree, as well as those that have a high turnover rate. Internally, we began to evaluate that across all solution lines. And we identified roles where we could remove the four-year degree barrier – because those roles need skills, but not a four-year degree.” - Shay Robinson, Public Affairs Manager for Global Eco-Systems & Apprenticeship Programs, Aon

Aon works closely with partners to build a network of support for apprentices, collaborating with community-based organizations to support an apprentice with employment, skilling, and wraparound support services. 

Once they complete their degree, if the apprentice has performed on the job as well as academically, they continue as full-time Aon employees. Aon has achieved an 80% retention rate since the program’s inception, which shows the effectiveness of apprenticeships.

“We offer apprenticeships in human resources, finance, and information technology. Apprentices move into full-time positions as data analysts or account specialists, for example. These positions have career paths associated with them that allow for growth across many of our solution lines.” - Shay Robinson, Public Affairs Manager for Global Eco-Systems & Apprenticeship Programs, Aon

Apprenticeships are quite different from internships, which were discussed earlier in this chapter. Apprenticeships last longer than internships, involve classroom education as well on-the-job training, and are intended to lead to permanent hires. See the table below for a comparison of internships and apprenticeships. 

Comparison of internships and apprenticeships



Purpose of Program

Expose students to a career path and organization 

Develop skills to prepare participants for specific roles in the organization

Typical Participants

Usually four-year college students

Usually community or two-year college students


Usually 8-12 weeks during the summer

Usually 2 years

Work hours

Generally 30-40 hours per week

Generally 40 hours per week, split between classroom time, study, and work

Costs to Employer

Payroll and supervision

Payroll, supervision, and tuition

Skills Developed


Job-specific skills and “soft” skills 

Learning experiences / Curriculum 

If present, typically designed and provided by the employer 

Typically designed in consultation with the employer by an educational partner such as a community college


May or may not lead to full-time job offer after education is completed

Most often, for those who do well during the apprenticeship period, the expectation is a continuing full-time role after program is completed 

Retention and Inclusion 

Hiring and training employees to fit your organizational needs is a huge task, and one that can be undermined quickly if turnover rates are high. The financial, organizational, and emotional toll of losing an employee can be one of the most costly aspects of talent management. Luckily, the workforce ecosystem can be a vital ally to increase rates of retention and keep the talent into which you’ve invested so much.

Here are several types of retention and inclusion business services that business services partners can provide. 

Wraparound Services

Wraparound services is a term commonly used to describe the kinds of services that business services partners make available to their program participants that are not traditionally associated strictly with job search efforts. These can include assistance with finding secure housing, reliable transportation, child care, or other types of interventions that help to reduce absenteeism and termination for workers facing challenges outside the workplace that can lead to an inability to provide consistent attendance. Most business services partners continue their relationship with their program participants after initial placement, and they can be a vital ally to both participants and employers who want a placement to be a success.

This can include financial literacy training, behavioral health assistance, and more. For example, the employer might offer company-sponsored employee loans, to meet unexpected financial emergencies. 

“We’ve found that you have to look at an employee’s entire life and factor in circumstances that have nothing to do with the job. If someone is dealing with an issue that impacts their sister, mother, uncle, or child, for instance, that is going to affect the worker. If I have a landscaper whose wife isn't working, that will affect my employee. We are considering a person’s whole life situation and providing many avenues of support for that person and those in their network.” - Julian Posada, Founder/President/CEO, LiftUp Enterprises

LiftUp Enterprises offers a number of other benefits, such as transportation vouchers, 529 seed investment funds for employees, and even fun benefits like a spot bonus, which is a nominal voucher or gift card that is given to someone for simply smiling or being nice. 

Retention Services

Retention services can include all of the wraparound services listed above, which are provided directly to participants, and also include additional strategies that employers use to mitigate turnover. A business services partner in this space can identify strategies that are likely to help employees stay on the job. For example, an employer might need to adjust work schedules to better accommodate employees’ family needs. Or the employer might change the frequency of paychecks. 

“We’ve collaborated with partners and identified key solutions from research institutions like the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University and the Good Jobs Institute that we are testing in real time for effectiveness. For example, we pay our employees once a week, because research has demonstrated that when a person is living paycheck to paycheck and is being paid every two weeks, they experience high levels of stress. Being paid once a week doesn’t completely eliminate that stress, but it does reduce it, and lowers the cognitive load on the employee.” - Julian Posada, Founder/President/CEO, LiftUp Enterprises

Retention services are available to employers independently from any type of hiring or training programs, and can be offered to all of their workforce. These programs work much like an employee assistance program, and are a way for employees to get help with personal issues that may be affecting their work performance.

Inclusivity Training

Another type of service in this category is inclusivity training. Inclusivity training is generally targeted to supervisors as well as line employees. 

Inclusivity Training is “a program, class, or initiative that seeks to provide employers and hiring managers with opportunities and solutions that may be available to them, but are not common knowledge. These educational initiatives may focus on bringing awareness to hidden barriers to employment, outline subsidies available for hiring specific target populations, or train to remove unconscious biases that may be a part of the current hiring process.” - Talent Solutions Connector

Inclusivity training can help employers identify unintended barriers that may be excluding or discouraging candidates and incumbent employees. Inclusivity training can improve retention by helping employees feel welcome, and a sense of belonging, on the job. 

"The Chicago Resiliency Network hosts a cohort of employers that helps its members hire and retain young employees of color. One of its goals is creating more healing-centered and supportive workspaces. For example, employers in the cohort might observe the types of interactions employees and managers have, and note how many of those interactions are positive -- and then implement initiatives to make sure employees have at least one positive interaction every day." - Brian Fabes, Managing Director, Corporate Coalition

Why Engage? 

Now that we’ve covered the types of scenarios that would lead you to reach out to partners and dip your toe into the workforce ecosystem, let’s talk about the million dollar question: Why?

Why would you, a busy working professional, add an extra step to an already complex activity like hiring? If you’ve picked up this book there’s a good chance that you already have an answer to this: What I’m doing right now is not working. Or, you suspect that there are some resources available to you that you haven’t yet discovered. 

But what if you feel like your talent management practices are just fine the way they are? Or perhaps, even if you yourself are aware of opportunities to improve, there are folks in leadership positions at your organization who are wary of upsetting the apple cart. Is there anything that can be gained from exploring the workforce ecosystem if your current hiring practices seem to be just fine?

Absolutely. Let’s explore:

Save Money

Money: it’s the first on this list because it is the most translatable to anyone at your organization. Telling a reluctant leader that you have found a way to save the organization money is usually a surefire way to get their attention. There are several ways that partnering with a business services partner can save you money. 

First, many organizations operate at no cost to their employer partners. So rather than paying a recruiting firm, or for listing on a hiring website, you can save that money right off the bat by finding a business services partner that is able to work with you for free. 

Another cost-saving aspect is the possibility of governmental subsidies. As we discussed in the previous chapter, there are many funding streams dedicated to helping Cook County residents connect with gainful employment. It can be complicated and overwhelming to access these funds on your own, and that’s where a business services partner can be an asset. They specialize in knowing the current opportunities, and can help you navigate the red tape to ensure you are reimbursed when subsidies are available. 

“Beyond hiring, employers can access our subsidized employment programs, where we cover wages during on-the-job training. This eases cost burdens with the hope of eventual permanent hire. Additionally, we offer programs like the WIOA (Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act) contract, where we provide ITA (Individual Training Act) vouchers for specialized training.” Anissa' Jones, Senior VP of Employment and Human Services at E&ES

Save Time

We’ve heard the cliché: Time is money. That is why time is the second most important “why” on our list. According to Stratus HR, “Some companies say they devote around 30 hours over 4 weeks just to recruit one employee. Others say that senior-level positions are closer to 40 hours over a 6-8 week period.” Multiply that by the number of positions that need to be filled and by the hourly rate of the person doing the hiring, and the time costs of hiring can quickly feel overwhelming. 

A relationship with a business services partner, one who already knows your organization's needs and preferences, can dramatically reduce the amount of time you or your hiring team spends on recruiting. Imagine being able to not only reduce the total number of hours spent recruiting, but also knowing that your recovered time and energy could be spent instead on customizing and deepening the quality of your recruiting activities.

“Small to mid-sized employers in Cook County, often stretched thin with time, should consider partnering with the workforce development system to help streamline their hiring processes. This system can offer hands-on support and simplify things, making it easier for these businesses to keep their operations moving forward.” Lisa Bly-Jones, CEO, Chicago Jobs Council 

And the hiring process is not the only place that time can be saved. Many organizations provide training for candidates before they even come to their interview. Remember those training programs we talked about earlier in this chapter? This is where engaging with a business services partner who understands your needs can be invaluable. Program participants can arrive pre-trained for positions and ready to work.

“The fact is that it is easier to hire from our partner organizations. I know what training the employees will have, and there is additional support available from the organization to ensure that the employee is successful in their position.” Tom Vranas, Chief of Staff, Innovation & People, Zentro Internet 

Promote Retention

A lot of attention is paid to the hiring part of the talent management lifecycle, and rightly so! Didn’t we just go on and on about how much time and money it takes to make a hire? But keeping those new employees as an effective and valuable part of your organization is just as important. Employee retention is vital to breaking the costly churn cycle, and the workforce ecosystem can help you here, too.

Un-Fun Fact: Loss is expensive. A report by the Center for American Progress examined 22 employee retention case studies. They found that for employees earning less than $50,000 annually (which covers three-quarters of all employees in the United States), the cost of turnover is typically about 20 percent of the employee’s salary. Findings were similar for positions earning $75,000 a year or less, which includes 9 in 10 U.S. workers. 

Another way to look at the facts: Keeping existing team members saves money. 

Workforce partners aren’t just there to fill a slot at your company; they are committed to both their participants and their employer partners to make sure every hire is a good fit all around. A good business services partner can help intervene when something isn’t working and prevent a costly loss.

“Cara [a local business services partner] provides continued mentorship for employees which is helpful when we’re having issues with an employee, such as scheduling or performance issues. Cara can help us engage the employee and help us keep them employed.” - Kevin Brooks, former Director of HR, East Bank Club

Wrap-around services, like the kind we described above, can be an incentive to potential employees. Beyond providing fair and competitive compensation for open positions, hiring managers can differentiate their organizations from the pack by offering wraparound services as part of their overall perks. 

The organization WorkLife Partnership connects employees with resources to help them overcome barriers that could lead to job loss, while providing the organization with critical data to reduce turnover and increase productivity. They report 

  • 83% of employees are more likely to stay at their current employer because a Navigator is available

  • 80% of employees feel good working for a company that offers WorkLife

  • 95% employer member retention in 2020

Sometimes all it takes is a small change to increase retention. Engaging with a business services partner who can use their experience to evaluate your current situation could be the quick fix you need to retain the talent you’ve worked so hard to recruit.

Hire Better-Fit Candidates

While business services partners have different internal operating procedures, one thing they all have in common is that they do intake and screening of their participants to get a clear picture of the candidates’ unique skills, opportunities, challenges, and interests. These programs really get to know their participants, and many have requirements that must be met before they will consider them ready to be sent out for an interview. So any candidate you are seeing has already been vetted and is supported by a whole team of folks who know them not as a number but as a whole person. This pre-screening can be an invaluable time-saver for busy hiring managers, and lead to more successful hires.

“It is critically important for us as a business to ensure that we are always hiring the right person for the job. We would do a disservice to the individual and to our bottom line to hire someone who we don’t think would be successful in a role, so we don’t do that. Everyone that we've hired through workforce development programs has performed at or above the same levels that we expect for all employees.” Tom Vranas, Chief of Staff, Innovation & People, Zentro Internet 

Employers who hire from workforce programs that are directly connected to a specific occupation and career path can be confident that their new employees have been trained in a set of skills relevant to their role, and will have the continual career support that workforce development organizations offer. 

Employers benefit from these partners not only through subsidized training and wages for workers, but by being able to inform what skills programs are teaching and strengthening the pool of available applicants (which employers participating in the system will have a leg up on hiring). 

Access Broader, Diverse Talent Pools

By engaging with one or more business services partners, you can reach a wider or untapped audience with your recruiting. Consider taking a step to remove unintended barriers that may separate ideal candidates from your organization.

Traditional hiring practices will not reach certain pools of untapped talent. Job seekers from underserved communities may lack reliable internet access. They may be unable to maintain profiles on professional networking platforms. Or, they may simply rely on word-of-mouth referrals or other communication methods. 

“We learned the value of reaching out to people that may not find us in an ad. When you get a response to an ad, you’re calling someone out of the blue and making a decision on one short interview. With Cara and Skills [for Chicagoland’s Future], we were able to get more background information and see people that have come through their pipelines.” Kevin Brooks, former Director of Human Resources, East Bank Club

It’s also possible that your own systems are blocking qualified candidates from finding you. Pam Tully of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future notes that one way they succeed in bringing new talent to employers is by going around automatic disqualifications issued from employers’ applicant tracking systems. “Unlike traditional applications, candidates applying through us get a chance to be considered more holistically, bypassing some of the rigid filters of an applicant tracking system,” says Pam.  

Build a Better Brand

Partnering with workforce development programs and diversifying your teams isn't just about meeting a quota. It's a strategic move that can enhance your company's reputation and bottom line.

By showcasing your commitment to diversity, your organization signals that it values social responsibility, fairness, and progressiveness. This helps attract top-tier talent. 

Fun Fact:  A  Deloitte report states that 47% of millennial employees prefer diversity and inclusion while looking for potential employers.

By fostering a diverse workforce, you're not only meeting the demands of the modern workforce but also tapping into a pool of innovative thinkers and problem solvers. Diverse teams bring a wealth of perspectives and experiences to the table, leading to more innovative solutions and better business outcomes. From product development to customer service, diverse teams are better equipped to understand and meet the needs of a diverse customer base.

“At MERGE, we define diversity as our differences. Having a plethora of voices on our teams is important because when people have different specialties, backgrounds, and experiences, they bring unique ideas to the table. That's how we develop the most innovative solutions for our clients.” Kerry Griffin, Chief Talent Officer, MERGE

Moreover, building a reputation for diversity can open doors to new customers, funding sources, and investment opportunities. A diverse, socially responsible organization appeals to consumers who prioritize doing business with ethical and inclusive companies. Additionally, investors and stakeholders are increasingly looking to support companies that prioritize diversity and inclusion, recognizing the long-term benefits for both society and the bottom line.

In summary, investing in diversity isn't just the right thing to do—it's a strategic decision that can help your company thrive in today's competitive landscape, attract top talent, drive innovation, and enhance your brand's reputation and profitability. 

Enhance Your Community

Engaging with business services partners can benefit your entire community. The benefits of workforce development to the community at large are spelled out in Chapter 2. These benefits apply to Chicago and Cook County! 

Irene Sherr points out that even when the overall labor market is strong, there can be localized areas with high unemployment. While the general rate is around 3-4%, some regions experience rates of 8-10%. Notably, unemployment among 25- to 34-year-olds in certain areas can be as high as 24%. Additionally, there has been a decline in Black employment and labor force participation.

By engaging with the workforce ecosystem, employers can make a dent in these inequities, even as they address their own talent challenges and save time and money. Moreover, employers can help make Chicagoland a better place to live for everyone. . 

“People's need for employment is profound. I recently heard about incidents where groups were breaking into stores, which is disheartening. This likely stems from a sense of limited options and a bleak future, where they can't secure meaningful jobs that lead to progress. This highlights the significance of employers investing in their communities. It's a reminder that we all should contribute to fostering opportunities for everyone.” Irene Sherr, Deputy Bureau Chief, The Bureau of Economic Growth - Cook County

Think of the benefits of workforce development: Economic growth. Job creation. Reduced unemployment and poverty. Social inclusion. Improved quality of life. Isn’t it great that workforce development can promote all of this in Chicago and Cook County? 

Do the Right Thing

While the impact on your bottom line, increased access to untapped pipelines, and time-saving partnerships are all valuable reasons to leverage the workforce ecosystem, we would be remiss not to discuss the ethical values inherent in the system as well.

“Everyone needs help finding their way. It’s rewarding to lend a hand to those who work so hard in life to make it farther than the generation before them. They deserve for the community to wrap an arm over their shoulders and to guide them toward open doors that lead to opportunities.” Kerry Griffin, Chief Talent Officer, MERGE

For too long, folks who want to be a part of the workforce have found their way to meaningful work blocked, either by deliberate or unintended barriers. Those barriers can include factors completely outside the control of the individual, such as unnecessary job requirements, lack of information, under-informed and over-restrictive background check policies, racial prejudice, etc.

“Every year, tens of thousands of people apply for jobs through us, and we manage to place 1200 to 1500 of them. This statistic alone highlights the untapped potential that exists. This should signal to employers the dual benefit of such partnerships: meeting their needs and positively impacting the city.” Pam Tully, President & COO, Skills for Chicagoland’s Future

It is up to employers to be the drivers of change towards a more equitable workforce. By collaborating with knowledgeable and passionate business services partners, we can create a system that is a win-win for employers and individuals.

Summing Up ...  

In this chapter, you learned the reasons you might consider engaging with the workforce ecosystem, and the benefits you could achieve by doing so. 

What current or future circumstances might lead you to engage with the workforce ecosystem? What benefits are you hoping to gain? Use this checklist to think it over. 



Service(s) To Consider

Benefits Sought


Recruiting and Hiring

  • Entry level positions

  • Multiple positions

  • Temporary hires

  • Save money

  • Save time

  • Promote retention

  • Hire better-fit candidates

  • Access broader, diverse talent pools

  • Build a better brand

  • Do the right thing

  • Enhance your community

Training and Development

  • Customized train-to-hire

  • Upskilling

  • Apprenticeship

Retention and Inclusion

  • Wraparound Services

  • Retention Services

  • Inclusivity Training



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