Johnnae Phillips, project manager at Chicago Food Stop, found this job opportunity through Youth Job Center | Provided

Johnnae Phillips, 23, enrolled at Malcolm X. College to pursue a major in criminal justice and a minor in nursing, but her financial situation did not allow her to continue. “I wouldn’t say college’s not for me, but when you have bills and stuff … I would rather work right now,” said Phillips. 

She may one day return to pursue a college career in nursing. As for now, the North Lawndale resident works as a project manager at the Chicago Food Stop, a retail pop-up experience showcasing Chicago’s food industry at the 875 N. Michigan Ave. building – better known as the former John Hancock Building. She found this job after participating in the Youth Job Center’s workforce readiness program that helps young people find temporary jobs at Old Navy retail stores. Phillips participated in training sessions that helped her build a resume, gain confidence and learn essential workplace skills like communication, customer service and conflict resolution. 

With programs like this, Youth Job Center helps young people ages 14-25 “prepare for a job, find a job, and retain a job,” said executive director Lucretzia Jamison.

“That means how to build rapport with your manager, how to deal with conflict on the job, just some of the essential soft skills that clients would need in order to keep the job once they’ve been accepted,” Jamison said. “Helping them understand very different things that a young person may not be used to.”

The agency aims to reach high school seniors who may not yet have a plan after graduation by partnering with Chicago Public Schools high schools around the city. West Side students in Ombudsman Chicago West Campus, William H. Wells Community Academy High School and Chicago Hope Academy may be connected to the agency by their school counselors and teachers. 

“We’re helping them understand what a career plan may look like if they’re not going to a college or university,” Jamison said. 

Started 40 years ago in Evanston as a job placement agency, it has served over 20,000 youth throughout Chicagoland with services that range from helping them search for jobs to participating in intensive training and apprenticeship programs for careers in healthcare, IT and vocational trades. Any young person aged 14-25 can apply to their programs by visiting Youth Job Center’s website or walking into one of its locations in Chicago Heights, Englewood, Evanston and Pilsen. 

“We’re not actually against college,” Jamison said, adding Youth Job Center helps young people find opportunities that are faster than a traditional college such as free short-term training and certification programs, paid work experiences in the field, career counseling, support services and oftentimes, free uniforms, tools and equipment they need.

For Phillips, the workforce development agency helped her find a new job at the Chicago Food Stop when the workforce readiness program at Old Navy was over. She started last December as a guest experience specialist and quickly moved up to her current role as project manager. This opportunity has helped her continue to develop work skills that she can apply now and, in the future, whether that’s in retail or healthcare, she said. “Communication is a big thing. You gotta take accountability for some things,” Phillips said. “You gotta be a responsible person. That’s the number one. Be responsible and reliable.”