Since 2015, Youth Job Center has partnered with Gap Inc. on the This Way Ahead program, a paid 10-week internship program targeting low income teens and young adults facing barriers to employment. Interns receive personalized employment training and are placed in Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic stores throughout Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. The program provides meaningful employment experience and allows youth to develop skills they can build upon throughout their career and lifetime.
Prior to being placed in a store, youth undergo work-readiness training that helps them develop skills that are essential to successful employment. YJC’s training program starts with the basics of getting a job (completing applications, building resumes, practicing interview techniques) in group and 1-on-1 settings, but these lessons are merely the starting point. Workplace expectations, navigating workplace culture, positive communication skills, and basics of attendance and punctuality are the soft skills that youth often struggle with, and via employer feedback, are cited as the most prominent areas of growth. These trainings take place at YJC partner schools, YJC’s office in Evanston, and other partner locations. Gap Inc. volunteers cofacilitate workshops that help TWA participants develop essential customer service and conflict resolution skills, and gain a better understanding of the their workplace expectations.
Skills that youth develop through trainings include:
Interacting with Potential Employers and Customers
Interpersonal and Positive Communication Skills
Placement and Retention
Following training, youth are placed at Gap, Old Navy, and Banana Republic stores. Their store placement depends on the participants location and interests, as YJC and Gap try to match participants with their preferred brand in a location that is convenient to them, understanding that not everyone is able to travel long distances for work. Participants are matched with a “Big Sib” at their store, an experienced employee who will act as a mentor to the youth, providing hands on guidance and helping them navigate things like corporate culture, company policy, and day-to-day activities.
During the internship, youth will also be supported by a YJC Career Advisor, who will check in on them at least once a week and work with store managers and other Gap Staff to deal with any issues (tardiness, poor attitude, lack of understanding core responsibilities, etc). By supporting youth like this we increase the chances that they will successfully complete the internship and help them develop valuable transferable skills.
Following completion of the internship, many This Way Ahead participants are offered permanent part-time or full-time employment at their store. Over the course of the last three years, roughly 65% of the 425 youth who have participated in This Way Ahead have received offers for continuing employment. YJC continues to work with these youth for up to two years after they have secured offers for employment, helping them to identify career paths and develop actionable plans for career advancement.