For the unemployed and underemployed Chicagoans with little formal education and limited job training, the current job market presents an enormous challenge. Seeing the need to create a way for individuals within under served communities to seek employment, the YMCA Alliance was created.

Since opening in 1975, it has been a steadfast workforce development arm of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. The Austin site at 501 N. Central is one of four Chicago area YMCA’s with a workforce development program. There are also sites in Downtown Chicago, Roseland and Garfield Park. The Austin location, however, is the only one with a Customer Service and Employment Training program. The four-week program meets three days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m.

“They first must fill out all applicable forms, such as referral forms and forms pertaining to their needs if they were to take the class,” said Community Outreach Specialist Norma Drew Tabb. “These needs may include setting them up with child care providers, help with transportation expenses and ways to obtain professional attire to attend the class in, if they don’t have money to buy new clothes.”

Curiously, one of the biggest challenges in overseeing the program, according to Tabb, is convincing participants to reframe from wearing clothes more appropriate for a baseball game than an office.

“We see a lot of resistance to our dress code,” she said. “I know how many people involved can be resistant to change, or see this as more of a school type setting, but we expect to see the same regard for one’s attire here that would be expected at a job interview.”

Among the stipulations of the dress code are: no hats or head wraps, gym shoes or denim. Participants also need to take a skill’s test to evaluate their basic skill level before classes begin.

“Everyone is treated as an individual,” said Tabb. “That’s why they all have a case manager who keeps special files on them to assure that they receive the attention required in the area they want to improve in.”

In the first week, participants learn employability and job search skills. In the second, they receive basic computer skills training and work on career planning and decision making. In the third week, they receive intensive customer service training. In the fourth, participants begin a structured job search with the assistance of a career development specialist.

A new training session begins the first of every month. There is no charge to participate; although, all students are expected to arrive on time and give their all in those four weeks.

“I myself attended the GED training program downtown in 1999,” said Tabb. “I’ve been where many of them are at. I had to acquire childcare and live on a very modest income until I finished, but when I did, it opened career opportunities to me that I wouldn’t have otherwise had. In fact, about 90 percent of those who go through out job training programs have found jobs. However, it was a lot of work.”

Sponsors for the program include the Sara Lee Foundation and the Department of Human Services. Call the YMCA’s hotline at 312/409-YMCA to begin the enrollment process.