Workforce Challenges During Chicago’s Recovery

CHARLES EVANS: Good afternoon. I'm Charlie Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The pandemic and efforts to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus have plunged the economy into a deep recession and upended countless lives. As we tackle the enormous challenges that lie ahead, forums such as this are critical for understanding the workforce problems we face here in Chicago and elsewhere. It is my pleasure to welcome you to this important discussion.

Our current situation is without modern precedent. More than 160,000 of our fellow Americans have died from COVID-19, and millions have fallen ill. On behalf of all of my colleagues at the Federal Reserve, I offer our deepest sympathies to all those dealing with this disease.

This recession is unique in its swiftness, severity, and scope. Overnight, non-essential businesses were shuttered, and millions of workers were furloughed. Tragically, the most affected are our most vulnerable neighbors, those who don't enjoy paid sick leave, can't work from home, or don't have much cushion in their savings accounts. Their future is highly uncertain and will require new policies to help them through this difficult transition.

Today's event is part of a series that we, at the Chicago Fed, are calling Project Hometown. Progress on systemic health and economic issues will require community, city, state, and national-level conversations and policy changes. At the Chicago Fed, we are committed to taking an active part in helping move those conversations and policy changes forward. This is an important role we can play, and it is why we are holding this and other forums to engage people throughout our district.

We kicked off Project Hometown with a community forum last month that tackled a wide range of issues. Today, we're drilling down on some of the important workforce problems that face our city in this difficult environment. We're going to hear some important perspectives on how the city and its businesses should approach safely opening up the economy and getting more people back to work.

Since the pandemic hit with force in March, we've been hearing stories of businesses finding creative ways to protect their workers. Those efforts have allowed many to work safely and productively. But there are many reports of places opening up too quickly without adequate precautions and allowing the virus to get out of control. That is not only bad for public health, it also imposes a cost on all of us, as it further delays a return to normal.

Getting the details right is not going to be easy and will require public policy leadership. Unfortunately, even after health concerns eventually subside, not all businesses will survive, and many workers will have to find new employment, perhaps in a new occupation. Helping those workers make those transitions will be another important public policy challenge that our panelists will discuss.

Finally, our panelists will also offer their perspectives on how we can make this a more equitable economic recovery. Even when the economy was stronger, systemic racism and other barriers limited opportunities for too many people. So as much as economic recovery and a return to a low unemployment rate would help everyone, simply returning to where we were in February is not enough to meet this generation's challenge. We have an obligation to lay the groundwork now for strategies that will lead to much greater inclusion and opportunities for all our fellow Chicagoans.

So our moderator for this forum is Amanda Cage. She is the president and CEO of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions. That's a job she took on in March of this year. Before that, Amanda was the chief program officer at the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, so Amanda has a great national perspective on the workforce issues we face, as well as deep knowledge of our local economy. We're grateful that she's agreed to moderate our panel today. Amanda, the floor is yours.

Great. Thank you so much for that introduction and specifically for acknowledging the racial dynamics of these twin crises, health and economic. There is a lot of uncertainty, vulnerability, and suffering in communities, but that pain is not being felt equally in our society. And we will try to include that in our discussion today.

So this panel addresses three big questions-- how are business changing their practices, what's happening with workers, and how does education need to adjust? I'll start by introducing our panelists.

Elba has been the executive director of the National Latino Education Institute since 2008. NLEI is a nonprofit that focuses on training, education, employment, and advocacy to make meaningful, systematic change for the Latino community. They work in industries such as healthcare and energy, and their services are holistic in nature that include building participants' capacity for financial literacy, technology, and wellness.

Next, we have Jack Lavin, who is this chief executive officer of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, focused on economic and business development in order to create jobs and improve the quality of life for people in Chicago. Prior, Jack served as the director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, where he was involved in the founding of the 1871 tech hub and created the Disabilityworks Program, which provides job training, education for people with disabilities, including their hiring. He also served as a chief of staff for Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, where he led the passage and implementation of the largest capital infrastructure bill in the history of Illinois.

Next is Andrea Kluger, the director of legislation and politics for the Chicago Federation of Labor, the third largest central labor council in the AFL-CIO with 300 affiliated unions and half a million members. Prior, Andrea was the director of the labor partnerships for the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago, where she helped launch Access United, now known as HIRE360, an initiative to increase the number of qualified minority applicants entering union construction careers.

And finally, my friend Juan Salgado, who is the chancellor of the City Colleges of Chicago and oversees a community college system serving 77,000 students across seven colleges. Previous to that, Juan served as the CEO of Instituto Del Progreso Latino, where he worked to empower residents of Chicago's southwest side through education, citizenship, skill-building programs that led to sustainable employment and economic stability. And I would be remiss if I did not mention that Juan Salgado was also a MacArthur Genius fellow.

So I'm going to go ahead and just start asking questions. And the first set of questions are really for Jack and Andrea. Both the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Chicago Federation of Labor were quoted as supporting Mayor Lightfoot's reopening framework back in May, and I know both of your organizations were really involved in influencing that plan. What were the issues that you were concerned with then, and what are the issues you are concerned with now, as we enter our fourth month as part of reopening?

JACK LAVIN: Well, I think that there's a number of issues. And yes, first of all, I want to thank the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for having me on. I want to thank Amanda for moderating this. Andrea and I have worked together on a number of issues. Juan and Elba, I've worked with them also before, working with Juan on some workforce development programs now.

But the Chamber had a recovery task force, and I also participated in the mayor's task force. I think one of the big issues right now is trust. And we have to control our workplace. We have to control how we get workers to our workplace. And then we have issues with schools and child care and all that. All these things impact workers and how workers can get back to work.

And so we tried to communicate that on the mayor's task force-- testing, tracing that needs to significantly rise up. The city and state are working on that. But we still have a number of business owners where somebody tests positive, and they're not sure what to do, where to go, what the protocols are, or how to get testing quickly so they don't have to shut down their business.

We had a printing company-- had been closed down. They suddenly got a lot of new contracts, opened up. Someone tested positive. And if they couldn't get testing quickly, they have to shut down again. So part of it is trust, testing, tracing, and then transit is a really big issue. You can do a lot of things to control your workplace, but then you have to get your workers to work.

And 60% to 65% of the workers downtown use public transit. We're working with a number of business groups and the transit agencies on this issue, need to build trust there. We need to change perceptions. We need to have public awareness. If workers are going to come back, they need to trust that they can come back to work and safely take public transportation.

And finally, schools and child care-- many of our workers, if their kids aren't in school and they don't have child care, they can't get to work. So these are some of the key issues that we, as a Chamber and our economic recovery task force but also sharing with the mayor's task force, things that need to happen for us to get businesses reopened, get people back to work, get people back on the job.

AMANDA CAGE: Great. Andrea?

ANDREA KLUGER: Apologies for that. Can you hear me?

AMANDA CAGE: Yep.

ANDREA KLUGER: Thanks. First I want to echo Jack in thanking the Federal Reserve for holding this panel and allowing us to speak on these important issues, as well as Charles, Amanda, and my fellow panelists. So quickly, I think in the beginning, the Chicago Federation of Labor was very focused on the immediate actions that were needed to keep us afloat. When we're talking about essential workers who kept our neighborhoods running throughout the pandemic, we really needed to ensure that working conditions were safe-- things like providing personal protective equipment, instituting social distance policies in the workplace, conducting temperature checks.

It was really important for us to ensure that if workers were putting their lives on the line every day that they were supported by strict protocols that would level the curve and protect workers in the long run. And we saw those policies coming out of these task forces, and we're very happy with that. For example, we also worked closely with the governor's office on legislation that expanded worker's compensation coverage for frontline workers who contract COVID-19.

We worked with the city to pass an anti-retaliation ordinance to strengthen worker protections under the city's paid sick leave law. And then for workers who had lost their jobs, we are focused on getting government aid as quickly as possible. We worked really closely with our Cook County congressional delegation. We supported the CARES Act. And those direct payments and expanded unemployment have been absolutely crucial to families.

And then to your question about what we're concerned about now, in many ways, we're fighting for the same principles. I think a lot of our focus is on the aid we need from the federal government. Health and safety workers is still a top priority. We need to make sure that transitioning back to the workplace is done so safely and that decisions are made on based on science.

And we're still focused on making sure families who are struggling get the aid that they need. The enhanced unemployment kept many families afloat, but we know that that's expired, and we've been urging for an expansion. There's a lot of aid that families still need, particularly also for state and local governments to have their healthcare subsidized. I think we'll get into some of that later. But at this point, we're primarily focused on actions that need to happen at the federal level to keep workers afloat.

AMANDA CAGE: What role do you think labor market regulations play? And I'll give a specific example. Paid sick leave was passed in Chicago and Cook County in 2017. And at the time, there was a lot of opposition from the business community. Do you think employers have changed their perspective, based on their experience with the coronavirus? And what health and safety measures are employers and workers concerned about? And I'm thinking especially for those frontline workers, or those essential workers, who do not have access to healthcare insurance. How are they being treated when they contract COVID-19?

ANDREA KLUGER: Sure. So I'll let Jack speak to the perspective of employers. But I think the labor market regulations are absolutely necessary to ensure we have safe workplaces. Cost benefit analyses of these types of policies consistently show that they're worth it for employers. Even before COVID-19, a worker's inability to access earned sick leave has been shown to have a negative impact on businesses themselves, giving them higher turnover, loss of productivity, and other negative impacts to public health that affect businesses.

And all those effects, of course, have been exacerbated in the current crisis. So we hope that the crisis has led many employers to realize the benefits. One thing I specifically want to talk about that we are concerned with is a huge gap in aid for healthcare. We live in a country where healthcare is primarily tidier employment, and that system gets tested when so many people are out of work. So many workers have the ability to enroll in Cobra, where they can pay individually to continue their health insurance.

But workers who have lost their jobs, they've been able to recoup a portion of their lost wages from the expanded unemployment and the direct cash payments, but it hasn't been enough to provide them with the aid they need to enroll in Cobra. So we're gradually seeing more and more workers fall off their health insurance, which should be a grave concern in the middle of a global pandemic. So we've been pushing for the federal government to help subsidize those payments. It's something that we did during the 2008 recession, and we think it's absolutely essential that's made a priority going forward.

JACK LAVIN: Yeah, I think it's a great question. I think the paid sick leave is the law. I think businesses have adjusted to that. I think businesses realize their workers are their number one asset. So they're working to make sure they take care of their workers. And the COVID crisis I think has changed significantly businesses and their relationship with their workers.

Downtown in the office buildings, many workers are working from home, and that has significantly changed. And it has significant long-term impact on the business district downtown. I mean, you, right now, maybe have 10% of the workers that have returned to work downtown. I think originally, before this recent little bit of a surge here in Illinois, you probably had a goal of a lot of companies to start coming back after Labor Day, get 25% back by Labor Day, 50% by year end.

But no matter what, more people are going to work from home. That's going to change the downtown business district. That's going to change how people consider paid sick leave, time off, all of that because the workplace dynamics will change. And I think we need to start looking at what those changes are and how it will impact our downtown.

Our downtown business district is the economic engine of Chicago and Illinois. And if you don't have workers back downtown, that impacts restaurants, retailers, office space, commercial real estate. All these things are going to change because how workers work in the workplace is changing, and it's never going to go back to the way it was. So these are significant issues in how employers are relating to their workers and how they're working, whether they're working from home or how they're working, especially if they're essential workers and need to maybe not come to work because they're not feeling well, and all that's changed.

I think a lot of employers have adjusted their sick leave policies to address the COVID crisis and to make sure they're taking care of their workers. I think the vast majority of companies have done that. But our workplace has forever changed now because of the COVID crisis, and we need to start looking at what that impact is and how we look at the workplace of the future.

AMANDA CAGE: So Jack, I just have a follow-up question to that. As Andrea had mentioned, health insurance is so tied to employment, but we see a lot of employers who don't provide health insurance to their workers, especially on the low end of their workplace. Do you see that changing? Are more and more employers seeing that as being part of their responsibility, or is that something that hasn't changed because of the virus?

JACK LAVIN: Well, I think that the business community, like I said, sees workers as a number one asset. I think they're looking at what kind of benefits they give to their workers. I think that we have Obamacare now and more people are getting health care than ever before, and that's a good thing.

So I think health care is very important. The COVID crisis shows that health is important to workers and worker productivity. So I do think the health care of workers is important to businesses and they're looking at what kind of benefits they offer to their workers at all times. So yes, it's an important issue, and I think the business community is addressing that, just like you see wages going up because they need to attract workers. And you see different things happening because businesses realize the productivity of their workers is important. So I do think businesses are constantly looking at that and addressing those issues.

AMANDA CAGE: Great. So I have a question about the recovery. And I know it's difficult to talk about a recovery when we're still somewhat living in the middle of the storm, but what steps do you think need to be taken to make sure an economic recovery is as equitable and inclusive as possible? We know many of the unemployed will disproportionately be black and brown workers. We know that the data is showing us that every day. What do you think needs to happen to make sure that economically disadvantaged workers have opportunity, and what's the likelihood that these folks who are unemployed will come back and find living wage jobs?

ANDREA KLUGER: So I think we know that the current health crisis has had a disproportionate impact on communities color, which have had a three-times-higher infection rate it is, I believe, and a two-times-higher death rate. One thing we've been advocating for on the HEROES Act in Washington is implementing a temporary OSHA standard for workplaces because we really believe that holding every employer to the same safety standards not only creates an equal playing field for employers, but it's really a matter of economic and racial justice.

Another thing that I think is important to point out is that with most school districts transitioning to virtual instruction, we've seen women continue to provide most of the at-home assistance to their children. And because of this, it's crucial that employers offer flexible work hours, as well as allowing remote work hours. Because without that, any gains that we've made in women's participation in the workforce will be lost for years to come.

And then finally, I think one thing this pandemic has done is expose weak spots in our economy. And I think one of the best examples of that is the industry that's sometimes referred to as the gig economy, which includes temp workers, on-call workers, as well as independent contractors and other non-traditional types of employment. By classifying workers as independent contractors, they don't receive the protections that many of us typically associate with having a job, such as being entitled to a minimum wage, being covered by the Civil Rights Act and protected from discrimination, being able to organize a union, being able to collect workers comp and unemployment insurance.

So continuing to treat millions of workers as independent contractors with no social safety net really prevents them from benefiting from these relief programs that have been historically meant to sustain labor markets, and it also contributes to racial inequity in our economy. It's really something that needs to be addressed. We were glad to see that the issue was partially addressed in the CARES Act by providing unemployment benefits to these workers in the short term, but more really needs to be done looking forward.

JACK LAVIN: Amanda, the Chamber had an Economic Recovery Report-- and Juan Salgado, by the way, was part of that task force-- but we asked businesses in Chicago to take the Chicago pledge. And by the way, the mayor's task force called it the Corporate Pledge. But essentially, it's to hire locally, procure locally, and invest in our local communities and listen and learn.

So these are three things that we need to do. We need to hire locally. We need to look at diverse pipelines of talent. The Chamber is working with City Colleges and Juan Salgado and One Million Degrees, And we have a multi-company apprenticeship program designed after some of the larger companies that are doing apprenticeship programs, like AEON and Walgreens and Chase Bank. Ours is a multi-company where companies are hiring one, two, or three apprentices. But creating these new diverse pipelines of talent so we're hiring locally, procure locally, especially our black and brown businesses that historically have not had the same equitable chance to get contracts. But let's procure locally. That's going to help our economic recovery.

And finally, let's invest locally. Let's invest in our communities, like the mayor's Invest South/West program. Let's invest in those communities and make sure that all communities have an opportunity to get investment. And let's all take a chance to step back and listen and learn and see what we can do to make sure we have a more equitable economy, that the neighborhoods are strong and the downtown is strong because they're interrelated. If one is not doing well, the other is not doing well. So we've asked companies to take the Chicago Pledge. The mayor had a similar thing called the Corporate Pledge. But the whole idea is to hire locally, procure locally, invest locally, and that will best help our economic recovery.

And then just one other thing I would add, we do job training grants through the Chamber with our businesses, and we've offered job training where we pay 50% of the cost of the training. But many businesses have to change their processes because of COVID. They may have to change the procedures they have on the factory floor, in the distribution center, or in their workplace. And we have job training grants in that we're focusing on companies that have to change their processes and protocols due to COVID, and these grants can pay half the cost of the training. So we're doing that to help the workplace and the workers be able to adjust to this COVID crisis.

AMANDA CAGE: That's great. I want to turn it over to Juan and Elba, and I want to invite both of you to respond to any of the questions that had been asked previously. But I have a new set of questions for you that mostly focus on education.

With such a contraction in the economy, what plans do you have to continue quality workforce training for both new and displaced workers? And how can we ensure that job seekers have the resources to meet their basic skills as they try to connect with work and advance their skills and credentials? And specifically, especially for you, Juan, since Jack mentioned it, the apprenticeship programs, or Career Launch Chicago, how has that been impacted by the pandemic?

JUAN SALGADO: Well, I'm really glad to be here, to be joining all the panelists that are having this conversation. But the reality is that the employers that have been invested in the apprenticeship have seen the value and, quite frankly, have continued in the apprenticeship program to and through the pandemic so far. And that's a testament to the talent that is available at City Colleges of Chicago.

I think one of the biggest opportunity points we have is that pledge that Jack talked about. When we start looking locally at the talent that we have in our backyards-- literally in our backyards in Chicago-- you're going to look to a place like City Colleges of Chicago. And that's what these leading companies have done in doing the work with the apprenticeship network and with the apprenticeship program that we are doing with the big companies, but as Jack mentioned as well, with many small and medium-sized businesses.

And so I think our focus at City Colleges continues to be to make sure that our programs are relevant, our curriculums are strong, our students are ready for the marketplace and we know one thing when it comes to a downturn and a recovery. We know that as we recover, and we will recover, that people with skills, credentials, the people with degrees are going to fare better. We saw that in the last recession and recovery. Boy, did it come back strong, and it came strong for folks that had associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, certifications, things of that sort, educational credentials.

And so that's where our focus is on, to make sure that students know today that while things may be difficult, being part of an institution where you're supported-- and let me be clear, if you're part of City Colleges, there are CARES Act dollars that we have made available to students that are eligible. There's private dollars we raised to make resources available to students that have needs beyond their tuition.

But when it comes to tuition, we've also deployed dollars to help our students. In fact, we took the $3.8 million that the state gave us in flexible dollars for CARES Act. And we said to students, here's $400 that you can have to continue enrollment. We raised $2 million to say to students, if you're having trouble with your downpayment or your education, here's the downpayment. We got it ready for you.

And so these are the kinds of things we're doing to make sure that students don't take a stop year or a gap year or a pause year. Our students are 75% African-American and Latino. They come from every neighborhood in this city. But quite frankly, our data shows that if our students never start and if they actually stop, the likelihood of starting again is not very high. And so we need to encourage our students to continue on and fight through. And institutions are here, and certainly City Colleges, are here to help those students to move through and fight through.

AMANDA CAGE: Can you speak specifically about your new program? And I can't remember the name of it. Clean Start, is it called Clean Start?

JUAN SALGADO: Fresh Start-- it's our Fresh Start Debt relief program, Amanda. We're very pleased with this. The reality is that we have had students over the last 10 years that have been at City Colleges at one point or another. They were doing well academically. They left us without a degree. They left us without a credential, and they left us with some debt.

And what we've said is, we don't want you to be stuck. You don't have credential, so you can't necessarily get a better job. And that better job is going to allow you to pay off what you owe to an institution like ours. But our prior policy would ask that student to pay the debt in advance of coming back into the institution.

And what I've said, my team has said, and the mayor is really supporting 100%, is this idea that you know what? If you want to come back, you come back, OK? If you succeed through the midterm of first semester, we'll write off half the debt. And then if you complete the program of study that you're after, then we'll write off the remaining part of the debt. And so we don't want that to be an impediment to students. There are 21,000 students, people in Chicago today, that fit that criteria, and we're reaching out to them. They'll have three years to enter into this program, and we're very pleased with it.

By the way, there's an interesting element here. We're assigning a financial coach to every one of those students, meaning that they'll have their personalized coach to make sure that they can come up with the budget to finish off their studies.

AMANDA CAGE: That's great. It's an amazing program. Go ahead, Elba.

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: No, that's OK. I know I have a delay on my end, so I can't tell when my turn is. But Amanda, I wanted to get back to some of Jack's comments on workers. And before that, I want to thank the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago for having this new series of Hometown. Federal Reserve works with seven regions, and having something local focused on Chicago is greatly appreciated because not only have we had to endure the catastrophes of the pandemic, but also we have much civil unrest. So we're going through a lot in our city right now, as you know, so I appreciate these types of town halls, if you will, that kind of really focus on our hometown.

But I was really pleased to hear that Jack had outlined a series of things that he is aware that his businesses are working on with regards to worker alleviation to all of the challenges that many workers are facing. At the National Latino Education Institute, we work with national employers of all sizes, from Fortune 500 to your mid-sized businesses, and our experience has been very interesting, depending on the industry and the size.

I was recently speaking to one worker who works for a utility company in Chicago, and they're doing a great job in terms of providing a hybrid work schedule for them, partially remote and partially at the office. And these are essential workers, so they have found a way to bring that balance.

But then I have this other company who is professional services, a national company. And here I have a worker who has a preexisting health condition and is required to be at the office. And she's afraid because she doesn't want to lose her job. And so what we're seeing a lot is a lot of fear, a lot of fear, not just in health.

Both workers I'm speaking of are Latino. The Latino community has been hit hard. Both African-American and Latinx communities have been hit really hard by the pandemic in general. In Chicago, the service area that we focus on are the top zip codes, unfortunately, that have been affected by this situation. So we've got health issues, and then of course, the economic, it's all related.

So I was quite shocked at this national professional services employer that wasn't being a little bit more understanding of the situation. And so this worker's in fear, in terms of I don't want to lose my job, but I have a pre-existing condition. And they have had cases of COVID, and they're just cleaning. They're just saying, well, we're cleaning it, so it's OK.

So I think it's really important for employers to really take a look at this as a different work culture. It is a completely different work culture. And yes, your workforce is the backbone to your productivity and your ability for your profit. So workforce, it is so important to really listen to what is happening to your workers.

And it's really great to hear the investment or the thought of investment or the belief in investment not only from the public sector. There are a lot of different things at the national level and at state level where there are some investments going on. There's some tax incentives for employers going on. Right now, you know that there is talks about what is going to be in the next relief fund, as it relates to workforce development, specifically because that kind of investment has been specific to workforce development.

But on the private sector side, it's encouraging to hear that your members, Jack, are looking at making direct investments and not just rely on government funding. At NLEI, we started a program with one major company. We really were the pioneer founders of that program. And we customized it for the energy sector and utilities and construction. And today, over 24 companies are direct investors of that program. I have students who went from complete unemployment or underemployment, and they're making $90,000 a year. I signed up for the wrong career, but I wish knew about apprenticeships before. I would have jumped on that, and we promote that.

So City Colleges is doing a great job with focusing on apprenticeships, as well as many other organizations in Chicago that have received some public funding through the state of Illinois. I am a founding member of Apprenticeship Plus of the state of Illinois, as well as Illinois workforce board member and board member of a couple of other state and county entities that focus primarily on public funding for workforce. But the good news is that there are companies that are ready to step up and make those investments because they know that in the long run, if the pipeline doesn't fit there, how are they going to run their businesses? How are they going to move forward?

And with that, the demand, once everybody got their PPP loans, the demand right now for jobs, for talent is high. However, the gap of the well-trained, credentialed individuals is very small. And so one thing that we're doing is promoting, again, the importance of the essential workforce.

And just even now in this pandemic, how they've been able to supersede. Supersede, I say that with a lot of caution. Because even when you have an essential job and you're either a hot talent for it, because these jobs are in demand right now, or you know that they're going to need you and you're not going to lose that job. You know what has gotten in the way? That they've been infected with COVID-19. So it's been a very difficult time for our community.

AMANDA CAGE: So I want to jump in and just ask both you, Juan, and Elba to talk a little bit about what you would say. Because you both have been doing training and education for a long time and you've seen lots of different labor market conditions out there, given this unique moment in time, what advice do you have to education institutions about what they need to do differently? And really specifically, what do classes look like for you coming up, in terms of the fall, and how are the companies that you work with, because I know everybody is very connected and have built long-term relationships with employers and companies, how are they adjusting to working with your students, especially if they have to recruit people virtually?

JUAN SALGADO: Well, I'll just say that for us at City Colleges, roughly 80% of our courses are remote right now, and they're doing very well. We actually did not see, in the spring term, a very large fall in retention year to year. And so we did see a 2% decline in retention. And I would say that given the pandemic conditions and the very quick move to remote learning that we feel that that's something very good to build upon.

We do have 20% of our courses that we are doing face to face with all the social distancing measures and protective measures in place, smaller class sizes in larger spaces. And those are your technical skills training programs that really are going to be critical to the restart of the economy and the continuation of the economy. Sectors like health care have already seen a shortage, are seeing greater demand for workers, and are going to see retirements. And so we are going to need to be here as training providers for that sector, for supply chain, for other sectors, as those sectors actually grow.

And staying close to the employer is really important. Understanding their needs and continuing to understand their needs is really important and building those programs of study that respond to that. We're doing contact tracing now with the Chicago Department of Public Health. We've got huge cannabis program. We've got some new IT initiatives that are building up pretty fast as well.

And so the second part of it is making sure that our curriculum is continuing to evolve. And here, there are, I think, some skills that were in demand before that are going to continue to be in demand as we move forward-- communications, teamwork, flexibility, familiarity with technology. These sort of higher-level, meta skills are the kinds of things that really need to be built into what we're doing because the worker that is going to see success, I think, in a recovery is going to be the worker that is really able to provide that added value to the workplace.

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: Telehealth is just expanding so rapidly, the demand. We can't keep up with the demand. So that forces us to change our approach and job training. The whole job training approach is different now. It's adapting to what the needs of the business is, as well as able to be realistic into how soon you can train that worker.

And so customer service skills, it doesn't matter what sector, whether it's energy, health care, education, manufacturing, entrepreneurship, customer service is so important. And that, you can do virtual. So there are some things that you can continue to do virtually, but there are those things that you need to have the student in the classroom-- teaching phlebotomy, teaching that patient care, that bedside manner, those kinds of things.

So I think that education at all levels will need to change its approach. In Chicago, getting good broadband has been very important, having strong internet. So that's been an issue. We've been working with our student population and other student populations.

Pivoting to virtual learning means not only having the technology, in terms of equipment, but having the broad bandwidth to be able to continue to do that. So we're seeing those types of challenges, along with the equipment, and more digital literacy. So before, it was focused on mastering the content. So now it's, well, how do we use all of these different devices to learn the content, to be able to be prepared for a remote workforce?

AMANDA CAGE: So both Juan and Elba, both of you have been responsible for deep health care education programs within the Latinx community. And right now, health care, we hear all the time about the stress and the exhaustion and the experience of frontline health care workers through this crisis, just in terms of having a little bit of a breaking point. Has that affected either you have more people coming in who want to get involved in health care or people who are backing away from the industry? Do you see any changes based on what people are seeing in terms of what health care looks like and what the opportunity is there, in terms of who's coming into your programs?

JUAN SALGADO: Well, I'll just say, I think we have--

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: I have some--

JUAN SALGADO: Go ahead, Elba. I'm sorry.

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: That's OK, Juan. Go ahead.

JUAN SALGADO: Oh. We've seen a few students that have said, I'm not sure this is for me, or I need to take a pause to think about whether this is the right career for me, given the conditions now. But by and large, we've seen our students continue to persist. The dental hygiene program just posted a 100% pass rate right through the pandemic in licensure. And so we've also seen a lot of dedication. I mean, people that are coming into this field by and large know that there are risks involved and want to break in and want to break through.

The biggest challenge we face is as conditions worsen, so do clinicals start to disappear. And we really need to keep clinicals going in order to have the pipeline of workers that we will need now and in the future. And so we all need to do our part. I mean, part of keeping the cases down is to make sure that we can not only keep the health care workers that are there today safe because we have fewer cases and fewer hospitalizations, but also so that we can have the trained workforce for the future. And so we see continued demand. I think a lot will rest on how seriously we take this virus and how much we put, in terms of safety measures for all of us in society.

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: And just like in tandem with the growth in health care is also the energy sector. When I mean energy, I'm talking all the different sources of energy. We continue to see the demand in that area. We have customized more than a couple energy-driven job training programs, going into renewable energy, focusing on everything from solar to water. It's becoming a future resource that we're not looking at. But you're going to need skills. You're going to need credentials for this workforce. And I think that's the one thing that's key.

Amidst the pandemic, the one thing that has not changed or even has been emphasized even more is these sectors that require credentials and several credentials and focused, whether it's health care or focus again back on STEM. And that's technology and science and math and engineering and at all different levels. You can have entry level jobs where you might not need an engineering degree but do require an intermediate level of science and math. And so that has been emphasized even more, in terms of the essential workers are STEM. This is a STEM workforce, and so education is the backbone to that. I have a delay on my end, sorry.

AMANDA CAGE: Did you want to say something?

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: Yes, but I have a delay. I've had some students that have really impressed us. Like Juan, we've had those who say, you know, maybe this might not be an industry for me, with regards to health care, as they have seen the most impact of all sectors, I believe. But then we have the majority who said, you know what? This is what I want to do. This is what I wanted to do as a career. And you know, they need me. They need me, and I'm ready.

And that's the kind of thirst of truly wanting to be able to be a part in contributing to our local economy. So very supportive, we're very supportive of those policies that are going to be creative enough to have a balance of providing worker confidence and safety and keeping the economy going and keeping the jobs going.

AMANDA CAGE: Great. So we have a little less than 10 minutes left, and I want to do a little bit of a lightning round. And I'm going to start with Jack and move our way forward. Everybody here has made some mention of federal policy, and we know that Congress was not able to pass legislation, unless something happened in the last hour while we were on the phone, around enhanced unemployment benefits or the Paycheck Protection Program. I just want to get your sense. Short term and long term, what does it look like? What does unemployment look like in the short term and long term? And I'll start with Jack, and we'll go Jack, Andrea, Elba, Juan.

JACK LAVIN: Yeah, I mean, unemployment right now, we need the federal government to act. They need to do their job, and they haven't done their job. They need to get back in Washington DC and put a fifth round at the CARES Act together because many states' unemployment insurance trust fund is teetering. And one of their earlier rounds helped it, but they need to continue that help.

The state of Illinois, in the spring legislative session, worked on this issue. We work together. Business and labor and the General Assembly and the governor's office came to a resolution to help workers with unemployment insurance.

We've done our work. We need the federal government to pass another round of CARES Act and help our workers. Absent that, unemployment will go down. Benefits to employees that are unemployed will go down. And we really need them to have resources so they can provide for their family and pay their rent and do all those things and then have that transition back to getting a job.

So it's more important than ever we all work together. It shouldn't be on the workers. It shouldn't be all in the businesses. We've got to work together. Particularly on the unemployment insurance, we need help from the federal government.

AMANDA CAGE: Andrea?

ANDREA KLUGER: I think yes, in the short term, we need to extend the enhanced unemployment. Even states outside of Illinois-- states like Florida, for example-- their base unemployment is really low. It's in the $200s, whereas ours, in Illinois, at the top is in the $500s. So people are really depending on that extra cash flow in the short term.

And I think in the long term, to the point I made earlier, we really need to focus on who's paying into unemployment to ensure that we're providing a comprehensive unemployment insurance system. You might have seen last year, California passed legislation curtailing which workers can be classified as independent contractors, and we've been looking at those kind of policies because we really think it's important that all workers are paying into that system so that they can all receive the benefits of unemployment in our economy.

AMANDA CAGE: OK, Elba.

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: Yes, I think in addition to unemployment benefits is we'd like to see additional investment in workforce training overall because you have individuals who were dislocated and don't qualify for any unemployment and are looking to get the training that they need to get the jobs that are available. So this is something I think that needs to be considered at the federal level, in addition to the continuance of unemployment benefits is investment in workforce training.

AMANDA CAGE: And Juan?

JUAN SALGADO: We need to apply an equity-based lens to the policy that we're making on a federal level. Quite frankly, it's never been done. We're starting to do it in Chicago under the leadership of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

But the whole system of what we support-- support homeownership more than you support renters, support for your universities greatly while community colleges are really strapped for resources and have a big mission to do. I mean, you look across the board, you just don't have an equity-based lens. Look at the Paycheck Protection Program, big business versus lots of small businesses not really getting the assistance that they need. And so I think the meta issue is, are we going to apply an equity lens to our federal policy or not?

AMANDA CAGE: Well, thank you, everybody. I don't know. It looks like some people are in basements, but there is a tornado warning going on in Chicago. It looks Juan might have lost his lights.

JUAN SALGADO: I lost my lights.

AMANDA CAGE: Yeah.

ELBA ARANDA-SUH: Me too.

AMANDA CAGE: One of the best things about Chicago is I know you all know each other and you've been working with each other. This is not the first time you've ever seen each other. And it's the leadership of this city that makes this city great. And even though we're going through very difficult times, I have all the confidence in the world that we'll get together on the other end. So with that, and because my family's telling me it's time to get in the basement, I am going to go ahead and end this panel.

  • Print
  • Email

Workforce Challenges During Chicago’s Recovery

Having trouble accessing something on this page? Please send us an email and we will get back to you as quickly as we can.

Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, 230 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60604-1413, USA. Tel. (312) 322-5322

Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved.

Please review our Privacy Policy | Legal Notices