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2021 Impact Report:

Toward an Inclusive Recovery

The impact of the global pandemic was still felt in 2021 as employers and job seekers made sense of new workforce trends and realities. At Skills, we focused on growing our partnerships, scaling our services across Chicago and nationally, and deepening our investment in closing the opportunity gap.

Browse our 2021 Annual Impact Report for metrics, program overviews, and success stories featuring job seekers, employers, and community partners.

flipping the workforce model diagram

How We Work

We know the workforce “skills gap” is an access gap, so we flip the traditional workforce development model and start with the job. Working with our network of employer partners, we identify long-term hiring needs and connect unemployed and underemployed talent directly to open roles. We reduce barriers to employment and impact economic mobility in Chicago’s historically underinvested communities by working with our hiring partners to eliminate barriers that disqualify candidates unnecessarily.

Learn more

The War for Talent

As the COVID-19 pandemic surged and declined multiple times in 2021, the labor market was also unpredictable. Business demand for hiring increased across nearly all industries as the local economy recovered in the spring but struggles retaining and attracting talent persisted. A combination of talent opting out of the workforce due to more complex issues like caregiving responsibilities and health concerns paired with workers taking advantage of businesses offering higher wages and incentives created a very competitive market for hiring talent.

8 Months  saw record quit rates

+10M available jobs for four consecutive months

+5.4% increase in pay for job switchers YOY, biggest increase in nearly 20 years

2021 Placements

Last year, the Skills team served 12,000+ local job seekers through application screening, hiring events, community partner referrals, and our career development programs. Below is a demographic snapshot of the local talent we placed into quality jobs with leading local and national companies committed to inclusive hiring by reducing barriers to employment.


job seekers placed into roles by Skills


of placements identify as female


of placements are 24 or younger

26 & 29

average and median candidate age


of candidates list their highest education level as High School diploma or GED


of candidates are African American or Black


of candidates are Hispanic or Latinx


of candidates are BIPOC

Industry Insights

We partner with companies committed to inclusive hiring in a variety of industries and are focused on diversifying the roles offered to local talent. Our top roles and job types for 2021 were:

  • Customer Service/Call Center Representatives
  • Finance/Banking Professionals
  • Drivers
  • Housekeeping Assistants
  • Hospital Support Staff
  • Insurance Specialists
  • Retail Clerks & Cashiers


of placements in retail


of placements in financial services


of placements in healthcare


of placements in business services


of placements in TDL & manufacturing


of placements in food services

Our Work in Action

Despite variants and surges prolonging the pandemic, 2021 saw the return of in-person work as we adopted a hybrid model and hosted job fairs and hiring events in our Loop and Englewood offices alongside community and hiring partners.

job seeker talking to recruiter

Customer Service & Finance Job Fair

September 14, 2021

Local talent joined Skills & the CBO Collective in the Loop to hear about opportunities with Amazon, Chase Bank, Discover, NorthShore University HealthSystem, Wintrust, and more.


Retail Hiring Fair

November 9, 2021

Recruiters from Jewel-Osco, Walgreens, Walmart, Ulta Beauty, and Chicago Public Schools were on hand to interview and make same-day job offers! Our CBO partners were in attendance to provide additional resources to job seekers.


South Side Job Fair

July 15, 2021

We opened our Skills Neighborhood Link location in Englewood with an event featuring job opportunities on the South Side through Discover, Divvy Bikes, Ferrara Candy, UChicago Medicine, Ulta Beauty, Walgreens, and Walmart.

Delivering More than a Job

Our Career Access programs develop a long-term workforce by connecting local talent to quality jobs that increase economic mobility through coaching, mentoring, professional development, and educational opportunities.


Career Navigator

As COVID-19 disrupted industries and job seekers reevaluated their priorities, we launched the Career Navigator. This virtual program introduced participants to new pathways through info sessions, career readiness trainings and mock interviews, and mentorship. At the end of the program, candidates were given four possible directions to take: direct placement with BMO Harris Bank, the program's funding partner; continued education through a certificate or City College program; entry into one of Skills' Pivot to Success programs; or additional career readiness training with a Skills CBO partner.

Success Story: Mariah, a program participant referred to Skills from our partners at IDES, opted to continue her journey through direct employment with BMO Harris Bank. She is learning the ins and outs of the banking industry while building on her retail experience. "Not only did I gain a job, but also life skills I can keep applying. I've started working on my business that I'm trying to open up right now, so BMO's actually put me in alignment with my life purpose. During the Skills program, we made a roadmap. So to me, I feel like I'm completing my life goals." 


College to Career

Skills launched this youth program to support recent college graduates ages 24 and under by acting as a professional network. In its second year, we hit our goals by connecting 40 job seekers with quality jobs at area employers. The program faced unique challenges in 2021: the turbulent "war for talent" relaxed degree requirements for demand-driven jobs; and companies struggled to predict their human resources needs, structure their DEI approaches, and align with job-ready candidates emerging from local colleges or working with our CBO partners. 

Success Story: Jelanchea had been working in maintenance while she finished her bachelor’s degree. When the pandemic hit, she was laid off, but with two small children, she had to be employed. After a series of temp jobs, she found out about Skills’ College to Career program through our weekly Hot Jobs newsletter. She interviewed for the Program Coordinator role at GoHealth and began her new role in June. The culture has been very supportive and inclusive, and Jelnachea feels well-trained and invested in. She’s in a position to grow with a company that wants her to succeed.


Jobs 101

Our job and career readiness training youth program focused on helping candidates identify opportunities and land the job, experience workplace success, and build on personal and professional competencies. Our team provided resume training, one-on-one coaching, LinkedIn profile consulting, and mock interviews. 

Measuring Impact: In 2021, we trained 326 young adults from seven CBO partners: Atlas, Christ the King, My Block My Hood My City, Mercy Home, CRED, StoryCatchers, and Utmost University. We also partnered with six employers: BMO Harris Bank, Chase Bank, McDonald's, Rush University Medical Center, UChicago Medicine, and Walgreens. 


Pivot to Success

Partnering with leading local companies to develop career pathways through coaching, mentoring, and educational opportunities for young professionals, the Pivot to Success program impacts young adults looking for more than an entry-level job. Twenty-seven youth were placed into employment: all were BIPOC, 81% were women, and 83% are residents of South and West Side neighborhoods. 

Success Story: A referral from the Paul Simon Job Corps, Quinton was hired in April 2021 as a Pharmacy Technician at Walgreens. Within six months of hire, he passed his Certified Pharmacy Technicians exam to become officially certified and promoted into a full-time Pharmacy Tech position. During that time, Quinton supported his cohort members at Walgreens by helping them study course material in his free time.

Going Local

In July, we opened the doors to our first Skills Neighborhood Link location, co-located with the Greater Englewood Community Development Corporation at 815 W. 63rd St. Our Englewood office serves as a hub for employers, job seekers, and the community at large. To date, we’ve held job fairs, meetings with funders and partners, and appointments for local candidates to meet with our Talent Acquisition team. 

Over 70% of our placements are local talent from Chicago's South and West Side neighborhoods:


placements from the South Side


placements from the West Side

Top Placement Neighborhoods

1.  South Shore

2.  Austin

3.  Chatham

4.  Auburn Gresham

5.  Greater Grand Crossing


6.  North Lawndale

7.  Roseland

8.  Near West Side

9.  West Englewood

10.  Englewood


Candidate Success Stories


Malaya L.

Teller, BMO Harris Bank

Born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, Malaya and her best friend shared a goal to find jobs together. But when her best friend tragically passed away in November 2020, Malaya was left feeling lost and unmotivated. She signed up for our Career Navigator program with BMO Harris Bank, received interview guidance and support from her Skills recruiter, and was paired with a professional mentor.

In May 2021, Malaya received a job offer for a bank teller role at BMO Harris Bank.

"Thank you so much for giving a chance to a girl that felt lost. Being from where I'm from, I know the youth can really grow and find positive aspects in life with this type of program. I get inspiration from everything BMO has to offer."


Eduardo N.

Store Manager Trainee, Jewel-Osco

While attending the University of Illinois, Eddie also served in the Illinois Army National Guard. When his military contract expired, he was working part-time at a bank.  Then the pandemic hit, and he needed more security. Through Skills, he joined the Store Manager Training program at Jewel-Osco.

"Growing up, Jewel was the grocery store to go to. I always wanted to see how it's run, and now I get to be behind the scenes. With the pandemic, I realized just how important grocery stores are. I see customers come in and meet up with friends they haven't seen in a while. As an essential worker, it feels good to have a guaranteed job, and I love getting to meet different people every day. It feels good knowing I provide something for society that's beneficial."


Theodore B.

Associate Banker, Chase Bank

Born and bred Chicagoan Theodore was self-employed most of his life. But the cost of owning a business, the desire to spend time with family, and the financial and social upheaval caused by the pandemic led him to look for a job that was flexible, stable, and closer to home. His search led him to Skills and our hiring partners at Chase.

“I was impressed that Skills saw the South Side as a market for talent. The problem with under-resourced areas is that no one takes time to engage those areas for talent. The community members have to leave the community to find ways to use their talent. When I heard about your work in Chatham, it impressed me. I've even given people that I know access to the Skills website.”


James C.

Referral Specialist, AIM Specialty Health

"I was amazed Peter remembered me, and I was thrilled about the position with AIM. It was everything I was looking for."

After almost 25 years in customer service, James found himself out of work. He connected with Skills shortly before the pandemic struck, slowing down his job search. But he made a strong impression on our recruiter, and a year later, we reached out and connected him with a new role at AIM Specialty Health. James was impressed with how Skills stepped in, provided the necessary supports and filled in the gaps to make the process of getting hired at AIM as smooth as possible.  

Increase N

Increase N.

Nurse Support Assistant, UChicago Medicine

Originally from Nigeria, Increase moved to Chicago with her family in 2018. As the eldest of three siblings, she feels a responsibility to support them. Back home and in Chicago, she worked in daycare but left the industry at the start of the pandemic.

While working part-time in Patient Transport at UCM, Increase joined our Career Navigator program. "I'm so thrilled I applied. It taught us how to be team workers and team leaders." She enrolled in UCM's Career Pathways program and completed an 8-week Basic Nursing Aide course at Malcolm X College. By the end of 2021, she was hired into a full-time clinical role, fulfilling her dream of working in nursing.

Brendan C.

Morningstar Development Program

When Brendan graduated in May 2021, he found himself in a hyper-competitive job market for recent grads. He earned a BA economics and finance, and he was open to experiences that would let him explore diverse business functions. But finding a job proved challenging— he got some initial interviews and no offers. And eventually, he stopped getting interviews altogether.

Not one to get discouraged, Brendan regrouped. He revamped his resume and applied for a Financial Analyst role through Skills. He wasn't the right fit for that position, but a month later, a recruiter reached out with a seemingly perfect opportunity: Morningstar's Development Program. In December 2021, Brendan joined a cohort of young professionals training in different departments and growing their careers in finance.

"I like this program because it opens doors and isn't a narrow path. And I like working with so many different people with different backgrounds and skillsets. It will contribute to my professional development."

Employer Spotlights


We placed 133 candidates into jobs at Walgreens through direct hiring in 2021—more than in the previous seven years combined. Our close working partnership allowed us to rethink our recruitment and submittal processes in 2021, reducing our time to fill roles by nearly half year over year.

Walgreens also funded and participated in our Pivot to Success program through their Pharmacy Technician career pathways. 

Our partners made headlines in 2021 for their focus on DEI at the highest levels; they hired Roz Brewer as CEO in March , one of only two Black women CEOs across Fortune 500 companies.


One of the newest members in our employer network, Walmart quickly became one of our top companies for placements. In 2021, 134 local candidates were matched to quality jobs as Walmart transitioned most part-time retail associate roles into full-time status to grant access to healthcare and other benefits.  

In June, they broke ground on the Walmart Academy training facility on the South Side, focused on HVAC and other technical skills. The academy is slated to open March 2022. 

Walmart also supports Skills for America's Future, our national expansion initiative. They invested $500,000 toward our $10 million campaign to bring the Skills model to 25 cities in 10 years.


Roles in banking and finance grew in popularity among our job seekers in 2021 as many employers increased starting wages and made benefits more widely available. Our hiring partners at BMO Harris Bank deepened their commitment to local talent by participating in our Career Navigator program, designed to help participants develop personally and professionally through volunteer mentorships. 

Through our direct hiring and career pathways programming, 18 candidates were placed into quality financial services jobs in 2021.

In 2021, BMO Harris Bank was named by Forbes as one of the Best Employers for Diversity for the third straight year, and they were recognized by Bloomberg's Gender-Equality Index for the sixth year in a row.

Our 2021 Employer Network

Neighborhood Impact Consulting


discover logo testimonial quote-1

As part of Discover’s expansion plans, Skills met with their stakeholders to explore supporting their presence in a South or West Side neighborhood of Chicago, historically disinvested communities often overlooked for corporate jobs. This neighborhood impact initiative will welcome 1,000 employees from the surrounding area by the end of 2024. 

Our teams worked in seven key project areas with a focus on Site Selection, Community Engagement, and Human Resources strategy. We also leveraged key partnerships with the City of Chicago, World Business Chicago, and CBRE. 

In June 2021, Discover opened its first customer care center in 20 years, located in Chatham on the South Side. With 81% of the staff residing inside five miles of the facility, Discover is making good on its promise to hire locally, impact the quality of life of its team, and invest in the community. 

At its 100-day mark, the Chatham customer care center had received top customer satisfaction scores.

Learn More


As the first workforce development partnership nationally for America’s second-largest employer (in revenue), we began working with Amazon in the spring of 2021, supporting their new facility at University Park. We leveraged our network of community-based organizations (CBO) to connect Amazon with Warehouse Associate candidates in the Southland. 

In the summer, we grew our partnership to support the launches of Amazon’s new fulfillment centers in Markham and Matteson, in South Suburban Cook County. The sites opened in October, but the Skills team was hard at work since August promoting opportunities in the area to community partners and job seekers. 

In the first year, our work with Amazon has grown to include recruitment marketing and community outreach to help fill Warehouse Associate and Workforce Staffing roles across Chicago and the suburbs.

Learn More

Community Partnerships

Our Community & Strategic Partnerships team dedicated their efforts in 2021 to deepening our engagement with our network of local workforce partners and generating more efficient and effective candidate journeys. While our number of referrals decreased year over year, the number of candidates hired increased. We continue to optimize our approach and processes to better support our partner organizations and serve local talent. 

2021 Highlights:


  • YOY increase of 6% in placements despite a decrease in referrals, signaling improved communication of candidate requirements to organizations and job seekers
  • Submittal-to-hire rates for CBO referrals increased to 40% (from 32% in 2020)
  • Despite the global pandemic, opened the Englewood office in a hybrid setting
    • July Job Fair
    • November Hiring Fair
    • Community Engagement events with Englewood partners and our employers
    • Secured a shared $25,000 investment with two local partners to help close the digital divide in Englewood

Our Focus on DEI

In 2021, we moved from an inherent to an intentional approach to diversity, equity & inclusion at Skills, making a concerted effort to weave DEI into three main pillars: the quality and diversity of jobs we offer candidates, how we communicate our work internally and externally, and making space for our team to bring their full selves to work.  

Job Quality

  • Workstream developed as part of our Strategic Plan

  • Intentional work with employers to support emerging DEI practices

  • Focusing on employers that have an explicit position related to DEI and are showing positive movement

Our Platform

  • Engaged Rudd Resources in a new messaging framework to be more mindful of how we express ourselves to different audiences and welcome diverse voices

  • Launched a new website that leveraged a refreshed organizational voice, more images of the communities we serve, and content with a focus on culture and service

Voices of Our Staff

  • Hosted 19 staff-led cultural & historical events across 17 cultural days and months

  • Hosted three all-staff workshops on race, ethnicity & bias led by Dr. Joseph Flynn

  • Partnered with community stakeholders on events

  • Facilitated safe spaces for staff discussion through focus groups

  • Increased staff engagement and support for VOS subcommittees

Our Strategic Plan

Our North Star: To increase the economic mobility of under- and unemployed talent by connecting them to quality jobs through our deep partnership and understanding of the unique human capital needs of our network of engaged employers.

Over the next three years, we've committed to scaling our demand-driven programs, diversifying job types, and driving innovation—with the end goal of placing 4,500 unemployed and underemployed candidates into roles that drive their career growth and financial opportunity.

scale-iconScale demand-driven programs focused on placing unemployed South and West Side talent into jobs.

70% growth: from 1,000 to 1,700 yearly job placements

South & West Side pledge: impact 75%+ job seekers from these historically underserved neighborhoods via three office locations

Reaffirm our commitment: with 92% BIPOC placements (up from 90%)

Celebrating Our Impact

On October 5th, 2021, we hosted our seventh annual Employment Champions Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Once again in person with over 300 guests, we honored our partners, heard from industry thought leaders, and cheered on the hard work of our job seekers.

Experience the event by watching the full recording of the morning’s festivities.

2021 Employment Champions Breakfast Awardees


Champion for the Unemployed
DFSS-Logo-2020-Horiz-Full 1
Advocate for the Unemployed
Champion for Community Impact


Shining bright in Chatham

Brock is a native South Sider hailing from Auburn Gresham—just a short distance from Discover’s brand-new customer care center in Chatham. After two years away at college, Brock came home after his grandmother passed away. He needed a job with economic and career mobility.

A former coworker told him about new jobs at Discover. “It sounded great, but was it real? Full-time, well-paying jobs in Chatham? Typically, jobs like that are in the Loop or the suburbs, not on the South Side. But this was different.

Since joining Discover, Brock can see his future opening up, with opportunities to become a team lead, a manager, and then learning all aspects of the business. He can picture going back to school and finishing his degree. “Then owning my own business so I can bring more jobs to my community, and with them, generational wealth to Chicago’s Black families.”

“Thank you Discover for seeing the value in me and Chatham.” 

Read his Success Story


At the Forefront in Hyde Park

Loretta was tired of living paycheck to paycheck as a retirement home aide.

After years of applying to jobs, never receiving a response, a work errand at UChicago Medicine led a colleague to tell her about Skills. Working with our team, Loretta joined UCM as a Patient Transport Specialist.

“It was such a blessing to get that big break. With my foot in the door, I was determined to take every opportunity to continue moving up. When I learned about UCM’s Career Pathway program, I immediately jumped at the chance.”

After earning her Patient Care Tech license, Loretta is now a full-time nursing support assistant. Thanks to Skills and UCM, she has the financial security to provide for her three sons: she’s a first-time home-buyer and even bought her first-ever brand-new car!

Read her Success Story

Closing the Opportunity Gap

Dr. Annelies Goger is the David M. Rubenstein Fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. She's an economic geographer developing innovative policy solutions to address rising inequality and increase economic opportunity. 

Her work challenges the dominant "skills gap" narrative, arguing that building stronger education and labor market institutions, and making long-term investments in talent development, are key to addressing racial and gender inequities in the labor market.

The featured speaker at our 7th Annual Employment Champions Breakfast, Dr. Goger delivered a presentation on "Accelerating the Path to Economic Equity: The Case for Closing the Opportunity Gap" to our 500 live and virtual attendees.

Explore Dr. Goger's work

Premier Sponsors


Greg and Anna Brown

Chicago Fire


Motorola Solutions

Presenting Sponsors

Advocate Sponsors

Supporter Sponsors

Accenture AIM Specialty Health Alight Solutions Amazon ARCO/Murray
Ariel Investments AT&T BMO Harris Bank Michelle Carlin Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.
The Chez Family Foundation CNO Financial Group Deloitte DLA Piper Exelon
Rich Floersch GoHealth HUB International Ingredion James Hardie
JPMorgan Chase & Co. McKinsey & Company MetLife Midway Partnerships NorthShore University HealthSystem
Polk Bros. Foundation Pritzker Traubert Foundation Rush University Systems for Health Michael D. Scimo Family UChicago Medicine & University of Chicago

Partner Sponsors

Abbvie American Airlines Associated Bank Boston Consulting Group CBRE
The Chicago Community Trust Brian & Mary Faith Cook Divvy Bikes Dot Foods Ferrara Candy Company
Freedman Seating Company Grainger David Hiller Mark & Pam Kendall Kin + Carta
Korn Ferry Lenovo Mondelez International Northwestern Medicine ORBA
Perella Weinberg Partners Shaker Recruitment Marketing Slayton Search Partners Sterling Bay Glenn Tilton
TrueBlue Outsourcing Solutions Voya Financial Wanxiang Group Willis Towers Watson  

Impact Beyond Chicago

National Expansion

In August, we announced a $10 million fundraising campaign to support Skills for America’s Future, our national expansion initiative. Our goal is to bring the Skills model to a total of 25 sites in 10 years. Seed funding totaled $1 million, led by a $500,000 investment and a $250,000 matching challenge from Skills Board Chair Mark Hoplamazian and his wife, Rachel Kohler. Other early funders included the Stand Together Foundation, Dennis and Joan Berger, and the Economic Opportunity Challenge. 

In November, we held a series of webinars alongside a request for partnerships. Community organizations and employers working across the country joined our virtual sessions to learn about our unique jobs-first approach and the benefits of joining the Skills network.  

We received nine RFP submissions, and we’re focused on selecting or launching 4 new Skills sites over the next year. Our team will provide seed grants and staff resources to launch each site and partner with key stakeholders to adapt to the local needs and culture of each workforce ecosystem. 

Skills for Rhode Island's Future

A leading resource for Rhode Islander's looking for work, Skills for Rhode Island's Future continues to increase their local impact as they enter their seventh year. Learn more about Skills for Rhode Island's Future.


job seekers placed into roles



individuals in Real Jobs RI skills training program


individuals completed Ready Set Work program



candidates received job coaching



candidates served by workAbility program for individuals with disabilities


employer partners


Corporate, Foundation & Government Funders

Individual Donors

Our Board of Directors

2021 Financials


* Public funding includes federal COVID relief