Access United: Creating Opportunities and Changing Lives

For many Illinois residents, attaining a job that can support a household is out of reach.  A study from Voices for Illinois Children says twenty percent of Illinois workers are employed in minimum wage jobs, which currently pay $8.25 an hour.  In 2017, the union construction trades in the Chicago metropolitan area forecast more than 2,500 new apprenticeship opportunities.  It is well known that union jobs offer competitive salaries and benefits with opportunities for career growth.  However, there are many misconceptions about accessing jobs in the trades, United Way of Metro Chicago aims to resolve some of these misconceptions with a new program that will provide support for individuals looking for a rewarding career in the trades.

In partnership with the Chicago Federation of Labor (CFL), the Construction Industry Service Corporation (CISCO) and the Chicago Building Trades Council, Access United was created to connect job-seekers in underserved communities with a roadmap to union apprenticeships. 

An apprenticeship program is a combination of on-the-job training and related instruction where workers will learn all aspects of their given trade.  Access United is especially interested in reaching minorities, women, and opportunity youth.  At an information session in Bronzeville on Chicago’s South Side, Nicole Carter, Coordinator of the greater Bronzeville Neighborhood Network, said “landing a union job can be tricky.”

“Access United is an excellent opportunity to give individuals who are typically underrepresented in the trades an easier pathway.”

 Carter explained the program detangles the process of landing a job in the trades by connecting candidates with the information and resources needed to be a competitive applicant.  There are over 15 trades and each trade union has a unique application process and requirements.   Access United representatives step in by helping candidates prepare for union aptitude exams, explore their career options, and determine which trade is right for them. 

Job seekers can choose from a variety of trades including auto mechanics, roofers, carpenters, electricians, and bricklayers.  Most apprentices start out earning around $20 an hour with regular wage increases.  After four to five years in the field, an apprentice has mastered their trade and becomes a Journeyman. In Chicago, a journeyman will make over $40 an hour plus competitive benefits.

Access United has already placed three individuals in apprenticeships since launching this spring.  Right now the program has been introduced in the neighborhoods of Robbins/Blue Island, Bronzeville, and Austin, which are all part of United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative. In the first year, heavy emphasis is being placed on developing key partnerships, data collection, identifying and resolving barriers to accessibility and creating opportunities for expansion.

Carter believes Access United will play a role in helping her community achieve its Neighborhood Network bold  goal, which is to provide 5,000 greater Bronzeville residents with jobs that pay above minimum wage. “If we can introduce skills and financial stability into the community then I think we’ve accomplished a great thing,” said Carter. “I think Access United’s benefit to Bronzeville is as simple as providing access.”


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