WIP Cervantes and DeCicco

‘Where you live should not dictate your economic opportunities’

A conversation with Daniel Cervantes, SVP National Expansion & Strategic Initiatives, Skills for America's Future & Camille DeCicco, Director Social Impact, Discover Financial Services

In this episode of Work in Progress, Daniel Cervantes, SVP of National Expansion & Strategic Initiatives for Skills for America’s Future, and Camille DeCicco, director of Social Impact for Discover Financial Services, join me to discuss the national expansion of an eleven-year-old Chicago-area nonprofit that works with local employers to put unemployed and underemployed residents to work in good jobs.

Skills for Chicagoland’s Future launched in 2012 with what they call a “jobs-first workforce approach,” working directly with employers to identify their hiring needs and then connecting candidates from Chicago’s historically underinvested communities directly to hiring managers.

Of the roughly 12,000 people who they’ve placed in jobs in Chicago, 70% are from South and West sides of the city.

Daniel Cervantes was there at its start.

“Skills for Chicagoland’s Future was launched on the heels of the financial recession and really at the heart of it is we started to see that in workforce development there was an opportunity to actually start and engage and go deep with employers in order to drive greater access to historically-untapped talent,” he explains.

“What we saw over the course of time is if we can go work closely with an employer to really understand what their talent pain points were, we could work backwards and not only create greater access, but also work with community-based organizations and talent providers to support them in terms of giving their clients an opportunity,” Cervantes tells me.

The giant financial firm Discover, based in the northern suburb of Riverwoods, is an example of an employer who works with Skills in Chicago. The decision to build a new call center in the Chatham neighborhood on the city’s South Side came from CEO Roger Hochschild who had come to believe that corporate site selection is an extremely biased process.

DeCicco, says, “We had not opened a new call center in over 20 years and we had never done it in an underserved community, so (Skills was) really our guide throughout. Once we decided where, Skills became our consultant in many of the natural ways that any consultant is.”

“From a finding talent perspective, it was using what they already knew within the community – both the organizations connections, but also the ways in which you reach and find trust with the community, how you listen, how you embed yourself, and then how you help them trust you that this is real,” she adds.

Since its opening, the Discover call center has hired more than 1,000 residents on the South Side of Chicago.

This workforce model of understanding an employers hiring needs and long-term goals, then serving as a community connector and advocate has also proven effective in Rhode Island, where it’s found jobs for seven thousand local residents. And earlier this spring, the organization expanded to Phoenix with Connect to Work AZ, a new partnership with the Greater Phoenix Chamber Foundation.

Now, Skills for America’s Future has a bigger goal – 25 new cities over the next decade – using the model perfected in Chicago.

Cervantes is leading that expansion and he says there is a lot of opportunity to reimagine how workforce development typically has been approached.

“Where you live should not dictate your economic opportunities. Talent is everywhere, but access is often not. I’m optimistic that major employers will be able to talk to each other, they’ll see the benefits of doing the types of things that an organization like Discover’s doing, and realize that it truly does benefit the organization as a whole, retention, mobility, but ultimately it benefits the communities in which each of us have a stake in.”

Episode 276: Daniel Cervantes, SVP National Expansion & Strategic Initiatives, Skills for America’s Future & Camille DeCicco, Director Social Impact, Discover Financial Services
Host & Executive Producer: Ramona Schindelheim, Editor-in-Chief, WorkingNation
Producer: Larry Buhl
Executive Producers: Joan Lynch and Melissa Panzer
Theme Music: Composed by Lee Rosevere and licensed under CC by 4
Download the transcript for this podcast here.
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