One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Posts Tagged ‘workforce development

Meet Your Neighbor: COOP Careers

leave a comment »

(Special thanks to Kalani Leifer for his time and insight)

On September 15th, COOP Careers launched their inaugural cohort of first-generation and low-income college students in Chicago after launching similar programs in Los Angeles and New York. Recently, I had the chance to speak with Kalani Leifer, Founder and CEO of COOP Careers, to learn more about the organization and its community-driven approach to workforce development.

At the start of the 2008 recession, Kalani Leifer had chosen to volunteer with Teach for America and served as a high school history teacher in New York. He was also part of a new startup high school with an initial class of 120 students. Watching students develop strong peer-to-peer relationships over time, Leifer wanted to work to ensure that these “trailblazers” were able to succeed rather than languish post-graduation. In Leifer’s view, it would be seen as a broken promise to the students, and that their hard work and dedication meant nothing.

COOP Careers was initially launched in New York in 2014 with three cohorts. With its mission around overcoming “underemployment” in first-generation and low-income college graduates through digital skills and peer connections, the organization sought out corporate partners to build out the program and fuel upward mobility. (Partnering with corporate entities like IPG Mediabrands, their programs focus around digital marketing and data analytics) Describing the growth process as “organic”, Leifer related how the first two cohorts of that year would serve as “credible messengers” and advocates within the greater community. In 2005, COOP Careers took on two alumni as coaches as they launched two new cohorts, and added a third and fourth cohort that year.

As Leifer described it, this became a form of “alumni mobilizing” as past COOP Careers participants became passionate advocates of the program. Providing referrals for potential employment, outreaching to various other community organizations, and serving as coaches for future cohorts, past participants in COOP Careers ensured that the program would thrive. As cohorts were launched in Los Angeles and San Francisco, COOP Careers continued to see its grassroots mobilization-style approach to identifying new communities and launching further cohorts.

Although COVID complicated COOP Career’s plans for a Chicago launch, Kalani Leifer indicated that it provided to be a “silver lining”. Alumni captains were able to perform their duties virtually. In many ways, the Chicago cohort followed the COOP Careers model: engaging the initial community with the idea and watching it grow and develop. Referring to COOP Careers’ approach as “grassroots mobilization” is not too far from the track, as the program works to not only train future professionals but establish and strengthen a strong peer network that can foster professional growth. As Leifer himself remarked, “Launching a career is hard; it shouldn’t be lonely.”

COOP Careers has established a firm presence in Chicago and is a well-needed resource. They’re also a neighbor worth knowing.

If you have questions or comments, please leave them below or join the conversation on our Facebook page. If you want to contact the blog via email, please use this form.

And as always, thanks for reading!


Making Illinois Work

leave a comment »

Like many people in the state of Illinois, I am one of the “underemployed.” (In fact, I recently ended my stint guest-blogging at another Chicago Now blog to focus on finding more freelance/permanent work, and am always open for referrals). But thankfully, part of my exploration and networking has led me to find two online resources – provided by the state of Illinois – that are relatively easy to use, and which help anyone at various stages of unemployment connect with opportunities to return to work…and prosper in a changing economy.

It would be easy for many job seekers (like myself) to see Illinois JobLink as redundant – after all, there are many other job boards that contain duplicate information. What makes JobLink unique is that not only does it aggregate and contain job listings from a variety of sites, but also allows for employers to search posted resumes for qualified candidates. (In fact, I received a recent phone call from an employment agency via the site, and have since interviewed). For those who may not be technically savvy or digitally literate, Job Link provides a really invaluable service for job seekers.

It’s Illinois WorkNet – focused on training and education – that really serves as a great resource for job seekers. Providing career planning, training, and assessments, WorkNet is a really good resource for job seekers who wish to develop critical skills and maintain some of their job seeking momentum.

Some of you may be wondering why, in a blog about tech and social good, I am focusing on these sites. We tend to focus solely on charitable efforts and/or marketing when talking about these issues….but workforce and economic development are also key in driving the social good.  My experiences in job seeking and freelancing have left me with one key understanding – that despite the protestations of a few people, nobody wants a handout….simply a hand.

And both of these sites are welcome assistance for those of us seeking employment.

Have any comments or questions? Please feel free to leave them below. If you wish to contact me privately, please feel free to do so via LinkedIn or my web site’s contact page.

And as always, thanks for reading!