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Chapter 8: Grow Your Program

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.

Once you have established a firm foundation for your expanded talent strategy, it’s time to think about building on what has gone well for you so far, and reap the rewards of broader engagement and streamlined processes.

If you are reading this book because you are initially learning about or getting started with an expanded talent strategy, it may be too soon to think about building on success. But we’re spelling out some ideas anyhow, to provide some vision of what is possible, and inspire you and your organization to aim higher. 

Read on to learn ways to build on your (future) success, improve career pathways from the inside out, and then go above and beyond. 

Build On Success


As we witness the positive impacts of an expanded talent strategy, it's only natural to think about what comes next – building on the successes you’ve already experienced. Here are some incremental ways to expand and magnify your efforts. 

Add Partners and Services

Once you’ve established one strong partnership, why not use the lessons you’ve learned to connect with another partner who might add even more overlooked talent, diversity, and skills to your talent pool?

For example, Mandee Polonsky of Northwestern Medicine has tapped multiple partners and geographies for help with recruitment for entry level positions. Mandee reports, “A major source of referrals comes from the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, and we've also had great success with partners like Cara Collective and Skills for Chicagoland’s Future. We're active in neighborhoods like Bronzeville, collaborating with organizations like Teamwork Englewood and Bright Star.” 

Tom Vranas of Zentro Internet has partnered with nearly a dozen organizations in Chicago and suburban Cook County that work closely with job seekers. 

“For our construction positions, we mainly use Lincoln College of Technology. Their team are incredible partners - both in training students to be ready for work, but also to help us attract, hire, and retain talent. For engineering positions, we use i.c. stars. And for general positions, we work with the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, Youth Job Center (YJC), Per Scholas, CompTIA, RiseKit, Safer Foundation, Upkey, My Computer Career and others.” - Tom Vranas, Zentro Internet 

If you’ve had success with entry level positions, consider options for higher level roles. Don Biernacki at Related Midwest did just that: “We’ve been intentional about seeking a diverse talent pipeline to fill senior roles. We’ve worked with the Federation of Women Contractors and the Hispanic American Construction Industry Association (HACIA). Both organizations are leaders in serving their respective communities and have been dependable partners for our organization.”

Where to find additional partners and services? See chapter 5, and remember that ideas for matching overlooked job seekers to unfilled roles can come from various places. 

“The programs that we’ve implemented have come about as the results of a fusion of ideas from many stakeholders. I joined Advocate Aurora from a community-based organization in Milwaukee that worked with individuals with disabilities. Because of that experience, I brought an idea about disability inclusion to the organization, and they supported it.” - Jerry Baake, Advocate Aurora Health

Another way to expand is to consider contract workers as well as full time employees. Northwestern Medicine has focused on that. Mandee Polonsky notes, “As we expand sites like Bronzeville, we're also mindful of hiring diverse contract workers and construction teams.” 

As you seek to build on early success, think about the ways you can benefit your organization while also helping your community. 

“Collaborating with the workforce development system can help employers tap into a diverse talent pool and start honest conversations about needs and opportunities. It's all about widening the net in recruitment and making sure everyone has access to opportunities. In the end, it makes the whole workforce stronger.” - Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones, CEO Chicago Jobs Council

Design Programs

Another way to take your organization's success to the next level is by crafting your own branded "programs.” Larger organizations can use their scale to create unique programs that are not only tailored to their specific talent goals, but can also serve as a recruiting tool.

Northwestern Medicine’s experience provides some inspiration. Northwestern's campaign "Jobs one, two, and three" is not just a catchy name; it's a guide for new employees on their journey up the career ladder at Northwestern. The campaign helps walk them through all the steps required to take full advantage of these benefits, including the healthcare system's $10,000 annual education benefit.

Northwestern is leveling up with an intensive academic advising initiative for those interested in nursing careers. Mandee Polonsky shares that a lunch-and-learn session drew a crowd of a hundred employees from diverse roles. That was a lightbulb moment for her, highlighting the need for clearer guidance on educational options and career growth. 

For entry-level folks eyeing a clinical career, the organization guides employees to quick-start programs like Certified Nurse Assistant or Patient Care Technician, some of which are just five weeks long. 

“Our office contains a Center of Excellence that specializes in workforce development. We use a two part method to fill the pipeline: Outside-In and Inside-Up. For the Outside-In approach, we work with non-ready job seekers helping them to gain the soft and/or hard skills necessary for positions within our organization. By doing so, we are building platforms for traditionally marginalized populations, ensuring that they have access to healthcare positions, placing emphasis on those who are residents of the communities that we serve. The second method is the Inside- Up approach, where we work with our frontline team members to move from entry level jobs into middle skill and advanced skill careers within the organization.” - Jerry Baake, Advocate Aurora Health

Sometimes, branded programs need a hero behind the scenes. Northwestern Medicine added a Recruitment and Community Services Manager to its team, addressing staffing gaps in less accessible areas and giving the hiring process a makeover. That's how they rolled up their sleeves and engaged with a broader array of communities. 

Seek Funding

If those numbers seem beyond your organization’s scale, of course you are not alone. Jerry Baake of Advocate Aurora Health notes that lack of funding can be a barrier to success, so the organization actively seeks outside support. “In healthcare, the more funding we receive, the more people we can impact,” says Jerry. “We’re trying to be creative about how we leverage federal grants and local workforce funders.”

New partnerships do not necessarily have to add costs, especially if you find ways to collaborate with peers. For example, Advocate Aurora Healthcare received a grant from JP Morgan Chase and participated in the Healthcare Forward program along with Sinai Chicago and the University of Chicago Medicine. The program specifically focused on recruiting people from Chicago’s South and West Sides into healthcare careers. Michele Smith of Advocate Aurora Health says, “Rather than compete for talent, we collaborated to find the best opportunities for applicants from our service community.” 

Matt Strauss of RiseKit suggests ways for employers to lower their tax bills while expanding their talent strategy. Since 1996, the US government has been offering the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to provide an incentive for companies to hire target groups associated with high unemployment rates. These targeted groups include people receiving assistance from a state-approved plan, such as qualified -- 

  • veterans

  • ex-felons

  • designated community residents

  • physically or mentally disabled people who have a vocational rehabilitation referral

  • qualified summer youth employees

  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients

  • long-term family assistance recipients

  • qualified long-term unemployment recipients

When employers hire someone from any of these targeted groups, and certify through IRS form 8850 that this person is indeed a member of one of these groups, the company can earn the tax credit. The credit can total up to $9,600 for each qualified new hire. The WOTC is only available for private sector employers, and it counts as a one-time credit that you can receive once for each new hire. There is no limit to the number of eligible hires for an employer. 

"In my experience, many employers underuse tax credits for hiring… Workforce development professionals have a role to play here. We can provide guidance and education to both larger employers and their subcontractors. Informing employers about the tax credits and showing them how to access these tax credits can free up more resources for hiring and growth.” - Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones, CEO of Chicago Jobs Council

If this all sounds good, but you’re still not sure where to start, remember: you’re not alone! Business service partners are in the business of keeping up with available funding, and are uniquely positioned to help you maximize your savings. If you’re unsure where to start when seeking additional funding, a call to a trusted partner would be a great first start.

So, lack of resources doesn’t necessarily need to limit your horizons. Look for ways to bridge the gaps between current reality and what you would like to achieve. 

Provide Leadership and Share Best Practices

It is probably quite clear to you by now that the success of the workforce ecosystem lives and dies by the strength of its collaborations. So it will be no surprise to you that there are multiple ways that employers find partnership and support from their sector colleagues (and occasionally their competitors!).

Employer Peer Networks are groups of employers from a similar sector and geographic area that meet regularly to share information, tips, questions, or even source solutions to shared talent issues. There are many such groups, such as the Early Childhood Education Workforce Partnership which “collaboratively acts to elevate the early childhood profession” through a variety of shared actions. Or the Chicagoland Healthcare Workforce Collaborative which “identifies and implements impactful, data-driven and action-oriented training and hiring solutions” for healthcare systems in Chicago and its suburbs. 

Handy Hack: Talent Solutions Connector has a list of Employer Peer Networks that can be searched for on their site. Or, you can reach out directly to the team that supports Talent Solutions Connector for more information on what peer support is available for your specific sector.

Employers who contributed content for this book are not in it only for themselves; they're here to be your guides. And they generally go far beyond participating in interviews. For example, Kraig Kistinger of National Tube Supply is on advisory committees, part of working groups, and actively networks to share the wisdom his company has gained. Freedman Seating is well-known in the Chicago area for all the ways it champions workforce development efforts. 

"We take pride in our active role within the community, collaborating with organizations that champion fair employment opportunities." - Marisela Williams, Freedman Seating

Some employers go beyond communication and networking to build new collaborative spaces in the service of lasting change. For example, Related Midwest is a founding partner of HIRE360: an organization that seeks to break down silos in the construction industry and sustain an ecosystem that strengthens communities. The HIRE360 collaborators are breaking down barriers in the construction industry in multiple ways, including --

  • expanding employment and advancement opportunities in union trades 

  • investing capital and time to help minority-, women-, and disadvantaged-owned businesses to start, grow, and thrive

  • connecting area youth with trades inspiration and opportunity

  • modeling socially responsible supply chain accountability for communities lacking resources and opportunity 

Don Biernacki of Related Midwest: “We sat down with partners from the trade unions, private developers, general contractors, and others to think about how we could be more diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. We spent a little over a year in discussions uncovering the major barriers to progress and developing solutions that will fuel the neighborhoods of the future. That process culminated with the creation of HIRE360, a multi-industry organization designed to expand professional development and employment opportunities in the trades.”

Don takes pride in the organization’s impact: "This work aims to remove the very real barriers that have been in place. These strategies bring generational wealth and opportunities to communities across Chicagoland."

Connect With Hire360

Another great example of leadership is the Chicago Apprentice Network. Founding members Aon, Zurich, and Accenture established an organization to help employers appreciate the value of apprenticeship, and provide resources and strategies to build successful programs. They're on a mission to make Chicago and suburban Cook County fall in love with apprenticeships. 

Fun Fact: Since 2017, the Chicago Apprentice Network has grown from three founding companies – Accenture, Aon and Zurich North America – to more than 90 companies across multiple industries. 

At Aon, Shay Robinson sees spreading the word and supporting other companies as part of her job: “I share the good news about the value of apprenticeships to other employers. We offer our HR expertise, our legal expertise, etc. to help other companies stand up apprenticeship programs.” 

These leaders aren't just succeeding within their own walls. They're inspiring others to leverage strategies and talent that add up to a win-win-win for employers, workers, and communities. 

Think BIG

As visionary employers committed to making a lasting impact, there comes a point when we look beyond just creating an expanded talent strategy and plan ways to reshape the very landscape of our workplaces and communities. 

This next level of commitment involves not only improving job quality within our own organizations, but also crafting more comprehensive strategies that transcend conventional norms. 

“Additionally, businesses should aim to hire locally; this can support the economy and improve quality of life by offering accessible jobs. Part of being a good community member is active contribution to community well-being and improvement.” - Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones, CEO of Chicago Jobs Council

For example, some employers intentionally place facilities and jobs in communities that face challenges, creating a ripple effect of positive change. It's about being architects of progress, building bridges between our business success and the well-being of the surrounding community. 

Take Discover, for instance. They decided to set up a new call center in Chatham, a predominantly Black, low-income neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. They hired more than 80% of team members from within a five-mile radius, which meant less commute stress for the team and increased retention rates. Employee happiness shows up not only in strong retention rates, but also performance that exceeded forecasts. 

“Our retention and engagement levels are on par or above those of any other Discover call center, so we know we are doing right by our employees. We’ve also had exceptional success with preparing our employees for their responsibilities as customer service agents. Although the Chatham call center is relatively new, our agents’ customer service skills have quickly surpassed expectations.” - Camille DeCicco, Director of Social Impact, Discover

While the company obviously made a large investment in this effort, they didn't go solo. Discover teamed up with local nonprofits like Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, to source, onboard, and support employees. Victoria Rudd says, "Through Skills, we’ve been able to find wonderful applicants–those who are from Chatham and are also well prepared for our work."

Discover didn't stop there. They committed to local everything—from food to janitorial services. This resulted in $2 million a year invested in local businesses. Additionally, they opened their doors to the community for events at no charge.

For detailed information about Discover’s call center in Chatham, see this news story, or listen to this Freakonomics podcast episode

Irene Sherr from The Cook County Bureau of Economic Development sums up the company’s impact: "By creating a fountain of opportunity and empowerment, that one business decision has paid dividends not only for Discover but for community members as well."

So, cheers to big decisions and even bigger impacts! Employers such as Discover can help set the stage for a future where success isn't just measured within our office walls, but resonates through the very heart of the neighborhoods we serve. 

Summing Up


Growing your expanded talent program is about turning your wins into a catalyst for even greater impact, showcasing the potential of fully leveraging your region’s workforce not only within our own organizations but as a beacon for others to follow. 

“It's important to showcase these pioneers and highlight their successes and the positive impact they've made. Additionally, encouraging them to share their experiences and strategies at roundtables can provide valuable insights to other employers. This exchange of knowledge not only motivates more organizations to take similar steps but also helps them understand the tangible benefits of such initiatives.” - Pam Tully, President & COO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future

We hope this section has helped you think about the amazing places you can go. Here’s a checklist of strategies covered in this chapter, to help you think through what might work in your world. 

Overall Strategy



Build on success

🗹 Add partners

🗹 Add services

🗹 Design programs

🗹 Seek funding 

🗹 Provide leadership

🗹 Other: 

Think BIG

🗹 Locate jobs in challenged neighborhoods 

🗹 Other: 



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