New program gives CPS grads advantage in job market

By Contributing Writer

by Elizabeth Earl, Contributing Writer

Graduates of Chicago Public Schools may have an advantage in finding city jobs, thanks to a new initiative proposed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The plan, introduced on Sept. 29, would offer what city officials called a “leg up” to CPS graduates by requiring that they make up 20 percent of applicant pools for city jobs. According to mayoral spokeswoman Caroline Weisser, this is good news for past and future graduates of CPS.

“This new hiring preference encourages our students to stay in school and get their diploma so they are prepared for college and a career,” Emanuel said in a written statement.

However, the program doesn’t ensure graduates a job. Weisser explained not every city department has to participate in the program, and department managers must specify if they want the initiative applied to their pool of applicants.

Since taking office, Emanuel has also proposed changes to CPS hiring practices and pushed through a longer school day and academic calendar.

In September, CPS projected its 2013 graduation rate will be 60.6 percent and stated that 59.5 percent of 2011 graduates are now enrolled in college. In an Oct. 5 press release, CPS announced that last year’s dropout rate decreased 0.5 percent to the lowest figure on record.

“Obviously, [the graduation rate] might go up if [students] think they’re more liable to get jobs,” said Tianna Rosa, a junior journalism major who graduated from a CPS school on the Northwest Side. “Not a lot of people graduated [from my school]. The curriculum sucked … It didn’t really focus on helping the students.”

Rosa added that she felt her high school’s administration was the main problem and alleges that the principal cut out many clubs.

“I guess that was her way of making people focus on their studies,” she said.

The city is in need of better-educated workers with more skills, said World Business Chicago program coordinator Melissa McNeal. According to Emanuel’s 10-point Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs Implementation, officially adopted in March, 60 percent of municipal jobs require a high school diploma and some college experience, but only 54 percent of Chicago residents meet those requirements. Giving CPS students a hiring preference may help fill these gaps, according to McNeal.

The mayor’s plan also includes a fellowship program designed to bring the “rising stars” of the business world to municipal jobs. The fellows will work for three to six months under the supervision of the mayor’s office and in partnership with World Business Chicago.

“The way the model has been before is we churn out people, and they go and try to figure out what job they fit into,” said McNeal, who is also chairwoman of the fellowship program. “The intent is to make it possible to accomplish the plan so its objectives achieve growth for Chicagoland.”