Attendees at Saturday's job fair, hosted by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st). | Lee Edwards/Contributor

Bad weather wasn’t enough to stop more than 400 youth job seekers from filing into the Christ The King Jesuit High School gymnasium, 5088 W. Jackson Blvd., for a job fair hosted by Cook County Commissioner Richard Boykin (1st) last Saturday.

The Youth Career Expo featured companies, agencies and organizations, such as NIKE, Chicago Transit Authority, Brookfield Zoo, Target, One Summer Chicago, among others, for summer and year-round jobs, internships, and mentoring programs.

For many of the attendees, the event came just in time. In 2015, according to a recent Chicago Tribune report, employment rates among 16- to 19-year-old blacks was around 15 percent, and just 40 percent for 20- to 24-year-old blacks. Among Hispanics, ages 16 to 19, the employment rate was around 19 percent, but the rate was nearly double that of blacks among 20- to 24-year-olds.

Anthony Beckham, Boykin’s community outreach director, said one of the goals of the Expo was to find careers, not just jobs, for those in attendance.

“This is just a starting point,” he said. “We have to judge these companies on how many jobs and opportunities these young people get.”

He highlighted that Brookfield Zoo hired 300 individuals last year for temporary, part-time and full-time employment. Prior to the Expo, NIKE hosted a job-readiness soft skill summit.

Representatives from One Summer Chicago, which was launched by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, were on-hand to register hopeful applicants for the 31,000 jobs that officials project the organization will offer this summer.

Lisa Davis, the supervising manager of One Summer Chicago, explained that youth from communities with a higher numbers of applications receive greater resources.

“What we do is we have over 43 delegate agencies that manage the programs for us and for each delegate agency we assign them community areas because we’re looking to employ all of Chicago,” said Davis. “We are aware that, within the last three years, Austin has had the highest number of applicants to apply. We do address those concerns and put more delegate agencies on the Austin area than we would for an area that has only 100 applicants apply.”

The OSC application period is open from March 14 to May 15. In order to be eligible, an individual must be a Chicago resident between the ages of 14 to 24, fill out an OSC application and, if they’re underage, obtain the permission of a parent or guardian.

Leila El-Badawi, director of YES! Chicago, a youth employment program under Tap In Leadership Academy, said she was pleased with the number of applicants who visited the Expo. YES! Chicago – which stands for youth employment service in Chicago, offers career readiness training, job placement, conflict resolution workshops, resume building, interview preparation and courses in financial literacy, for 16- to 24-year-olds in Cook County.

“There are definitely job opportunities out there but it’s a matter of knowing the right people and knowing the right places to go to find them,” said El-Badawi. “We’ve worked employers who thought they wouldn’t be able to bring on any employees in the next couple of months and have worked with them and subsidized those wages.” 

YES has the capacity to service up 150 clients this year with 50 slots still outstanding, said El-Badawi. Job placement and career services will still be available to individuals after all job positions are taken.

Local resident Kianna Spearman, 20, said she enjoyed participating in the Expo but would have preferred if the companies in attendance hired immediately instead of directing job seekers to online applications. The Malcolm X College student and aspiring nurse said she hoped older applicants were given job opportunities as well.