Katelyn Dollard

Katelyn Dollard, Mercy Home’s Director of Post-Secondary Options and Career Resources, recently spoke on a civic affairs panel at The Executives’ Club of Chicago. The forum discussion, “The Role of Job Readiness and Violence Prevention in Chicago,” included panelists from a variety of organizations that connect underemployed young adults to area businesses with unmet hiring needs. Year Up, a job-training program providing young adults with marketable workforce skills, hosted the event.

Corporate luminaries from across Chicago, including senior leaders from Peoples Gas, Sodexo, and Fortune Magazine, were invited to hear panelists’ strategies for stemming the tide of violence in Chicago. The dominant talking point was how the business sector can help alleviate major systemic barriers to job readiness for diverse populations.

By providing job opportunities to underserved people, Chicago corporations find themselves in the unique position of offering a renewed sense of purpose, identity, and a path out of the cycle of poverty that often spans generations.

“The reality is, if our young people literally don’t know anyone in corporate America, how could they possibly be inspired to want to work there?”

“For a lot of our young people who live in some of the more violent neighborhoods in Chicago, there’s a lack of exposure to that other side of life,” Dollard said. “They haven’t seen another way. That sort of reality – I think it was very eye-opening for some of the corporations.”

With training programs like Year Up preparing these young adults for the corporate world, the duty then falls on companies to hire these individuals.

Dollard stressed the importance of underrepresented young people “seeing another way by being paired with an organization that’s committed to keeping them, and making them feel like a welcomed member of their company.”

While Dollard found it encouraging that Chicago’s corporate sector showed enthusiasm for job readiness and violence prevention, there still were some misconceptions to clear up about underprivileged populations.

“Sometimes there’s this idea in the business world to the effect of ‘if they wanted to work in corporate America, they would,’ ” she said. “The reality is, if our young people literally don’t know anyone in corporate America, how could they possibly be inspired to want to work there?”

By offering pro-active solutions, Dollard says civic affairs forums like “The Role of Job Readiness and Violence Prevention in Chicago” are hopefully winning hearts and minds.

“I think it sparked a lot a conversation in the corporate awareness of what our kids are facing,” she said.

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