Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and Union Pacific create all-female internship program

The Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership and Union Pacific Railroad recently announced registration is open for the Opportunity Works internship program, focused on the transportation, distribution, and logistics sector.

The cohort will be made up of only women. Register online or at YWCA Metropolitan Chicago, South Suburban Center, 320 W. 202nd St., Chicago Heights.

Opportunity Works is a paid internship program created in 2017 and funded by Cook County and private sector partners. The program runs year-round, with interns earning $15 an hour and working 30 hours a week.

The workforce partnership collaborates with suburban Cook County and Chicago-area businesses and organizations to provide support for interns interested in building careers in high-demand, high-growth industries including manufacturing, construction, information technology, health care, and transportation, distribution and logistics and other sectors.

Details of this specific cohort include:

• Open to women ages 18-25 who face barriers to employment, which may include being justice-involved, unemployed, or low-income.

• 16-week internship, including four weeks paid.

• Two weeks: Soft skills training, employability skills, computer training, financial literacy, barrier reduction, individual employment plan, career goals established.

• 10 weeks: Technical skills include welding, obtaining a CDL credential and OSHA certification

• Four weeks: Paid internship (30 hours per week at $15 an hour)

Historically, there have been six delegate agencies in the partnership’s network focused on serving youth through the Opportunity Works program.

They are: Business and Career Service (BCS), OAI, Prairie State College, SGA Youth & Family Services, Bethel Family Resource Center, and SERCO. This list is being expanded to include the YWCA Metropolitan Chicago.

“Union Pacific has long been a partner in this important program,” said George Wright, partnership CEO. “This type of public-private partnership is critical for successful regional workforce development. We are thrilled to collaborate with them to create this unique cohort and leverage their additional $500,000 investment to attract more women to the TDL sector.”

This is the second time in recent years Union Pacific has supported and provided funding to the Opportunity Works program, previously investing $300,000 to expand programming serving young adults from 2019 to 2022.

“Opportunity Works is a life-changing program, teaching students soft skills, while developing trade-related work experience that companies like Union Pacific look for as we hire the workforce of tomorrow," said Liisa Stark, vice president of public affairs for Union Pacific. ”This effort supports our diversity goal to better reflect the communities we operate in by doubling our female population and increasing people of color to 40% by 2030.”

As of June 2023, Opportunity Works had served more than 1,600 young adults. Nearly 86% of participants completed an internship and successfully moved on to school or work within six months of enrolling in the program. Also, 241 employers have participated in the program.

“Chicago’s sustainability is contingent on the future of our youth,” said Nicole Robinson, CEO of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “That’s why we are proud to build on our existing expertise to partner with the partnership and Union Pacific to provide young women the skills and experience needed to reach better economic opportunities to support themselves, their families and their communities.”

Cook County has allocated $15 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to the partnership to create programs and services to support residents and businesses affected by COVID-19, which allowed for the expansion of the Opportunity Works program.

Last year, the partnership expanded the program to include Opportunity Summer, which serves more than 200 interns in seven-week paid internships from June to August, working 25 hours a week.

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