Getting a job, growing a career: South Siders connect with campus employment

food services dish washing ucm

After a temp job ended and left Lanesha Dixon out of work, she was excited when a South Side job fair introduced her to Allied Universal, the University of Chicago’s security vendor. She was hired as a security officer to help patrol the neighborhoods around campus. “In our orientation, a supervisor told us that this is an opportunity to move up if you want to,” Dixon said. “I decided, ‘I’m going to do this job well.’”

Dixon did her job so well that her supervisor alerted her before the University officially posted a position for a community service officer at the UChicago Lab Schools. She was hired in March 2019, loves her new job and is especially happy that her schedule now enables her to take her kids, ages 7 and 9, to school each day and have dinner with them every night. This summer, her University benefits will cover more than half the cost of their attendance at the schools’ Summer Lab day camp. “This is a career, not just a job,” Dixon said, “and I don’t want to trade it in for the world.”

lanesha lab school crossing guard security

The right workers for the right roles

South Side residents like Dixon keep UChicago running: About 5,500 University employees, plus more than 500 people who work for the vendors that handle food service, security, housekeeping, and other critical functions, live in the neighborhoods near campus. All together, they help make UChicago the largest employer on the South Side, with employees earning more than $488 million each year that goes back into the local economy.

It’s true that many of the jobs at the University and UChicago Medicine are highly skilled positions, but there’s also a need for large numbers of talented, dedicated employees for entry-level jobs on campus. Making sure that South Side residents have a clear path to these jobs, plus opportunities to grow and advance, is a University priority.

To help get the right workers into the right roles, UChicago relies on community workforce partners who are experts in matching people and positions. These partners build strong relationships that remove barriers: Not only do they work closely with hiring managers all over the University and UChicago Medicine and understand just what they’re looking for, but they also get to know the job seekers they serve and can help them get training, skills, and certifications.

“Our partnerships with workforce organizations connect us with local talent who share our values and meet our expanding needs,” said Betsy Rahill, senior consultant for talent strategy at UChicago Medicine. “We trust these specific partners because they’ve taken the time to understand what makes someone successful at UChicago Medicine. They use that insight to provide us a pipeline of quality hires, often for positions — such as patient transporter — that are critical to the experience of our patients and their families.”

Workforce partners have brought UChicago Medicine skilled employees serving in a wide range of jobs, Rahill said, from clinical positions like certified nursing assistant (CNA) to non-clinical positions like patient care coordinator, stock clerk, public safety officer, and patient transporter.

Qiana Dennis was working at a downtown Chicago Starbucks when she felt ready for a change and connected with Skills for Chicagoland’s Future (see below for more about “Skills,” as it’s known). She worked with Skills on her application and interviewing, made a great impression at her UChicago Medicine interview, and she joined the food service team in late 2018.

qiana food service dish

Dennis really enjoys her job delivering trays to patients’ rooms, she said. “I have empathy and sympathy for people — and at the hospital you’re surrounded by life and death, which makes you appreciate the things around you.” She’s earning more than she did at Starbucks and is looking forward to getting a car; she’s also excited that this job offers better opportunities for advancement, and says that it has made a significant difference for her and her 14-year-old daughter.

Meet our partners

Coming to UChicago through a trusted workforce partner gives job seekers an advantage. The following are just a few of the many community partners who help connect people with employment here:  

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future matches organizations’ hiring needs with qualified job seekers who are unemployed or underemployed, and has a strong track record: after three months, 96 percent of Skills clients placed at UChicago Medicine are still on the job. Skills also helps people get the training and certifications they need for high-demand fields like health care, where there’s a nationwide shortage of CNAs and other workers.

Cara has brought talented job seekers to the University for more than seven years. Its intensive, full-time pre-employment program includes classes in everything from computer skills and customer service to interviewing and problem-solving — and every Cara client has a dedicated coach who helps them succeed during and after the transition into a new job.

Hope Works Community Development, based in Woodlawn, offers a Mobility Action Partners (MAP) program that not only helps people find, apply for, and get jobs, but also makes sure that they have housing, transportation, health care, and other support they need to succeed over the long term. Hope Works connects people with campus jobs through UChicago vendors, including Allied Universal and food-service company Bon Appetit.

The Chicago Urban League Workforce Development Center also has a strong pipeline to Allied Universal. Its Employment Services team works with local employers and trade unions to help job seekers get training, find jobs, and remain successfully employed.

The Greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network (GBNN) is a collaboration led by Bright Star Community Outreach, bringing together organizations working toward a goal of finding good jobs for 5,000 Greater Bronzeville residents by 2027. GBNN hosts career fairs, connects people with education and job training, helps with financial planning, and more — and the GBNN team is currently working on a website that will help residents directly apply for jobs.

The Goodwill Workforce Connection Center has an Englewood location that provides a wide range of services to job seekers, including frequent on-site presentations by local companies that are hiring across a wide range of jobs and industries. A large number of people connect with Allied Universal jobs at UChicago through Goodwill.

A steady gig and a vision of climbing the career ladder

“Placing people into University jobs is just the first step,” said Alyssa Berman-Cutler, executive director of community development for the UChicago Office of Civic Engagement. “When people perform well and grow in those positions, we want to help them turn their jobs into careers here.” For example, a pilot program currently underway at UChicago Medicine helps employees become certified as medical assistants.

Medical assistant and other patient care positions are jobs that have caught the attention of Corey Scott. Another Skills client who’s happy about his move to a better job at UChicago Medicine, Scott is learning about new jobs and envisioning his own climb up the career ladder.

corey ucm dish

In his previous job at Target, Scott scrambled to pick up as many shifts as he could. He was looking for something more steady when he connected with Skills, which recommended him for his current job as a dishwasher at the Center for Care and Discovery (CCD). “Now I’m dealing with the public in a much more important way,” he said, “and I like that the kitchen is full of life, with lots of people coming through: staff, chefs, managers, nurses.” Scott’s job has improved life for his whole family, he reports, since he’s better able to support his two children and can spend more time with them. He envisions long-term employment at UChicago Medicine, where looks forward to further exploring available career paths.

Scott is not only a happy UChicago Medicine employee, he’s a happy former patient: When he ruptured his Achilles tendon playing basketball in early 2019, he had it repaired at the CCD. “It was a blessing” to have the surgery at his familiar workplace, he said, and to be able to come back to the job after the successful procedure.

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