Jan. 9, 2017 is a day Eddie Richardson says he’ll never forget.
That was the first day of his apprenticeship at AON, a professional services firm in downtown Chicago. Before that day, Richardson had been working as a security guard and he had dropped out of college. When he stumbled across the apprenticeship program online, he knew it was for him.
“The application said no job experience and we’ll pay for your college,” Richardson remembered. It would pay him to learn at a new school, and he would get free tuition at City Colleges of Chicago.
A year and a half later, Richardson is still in the program and is expected to graduate this December with an associate’s in marketing management.
“CEOs and business leaders look at me and they see somebody with potential,” Richardson said. “But they would never have seen that had I not been in this apprenticeship program.”
Now, City Colleges Chancellor Juan Salgado wants other Chicago community college students to have that same experience.
Speaking to a packed audience at City Club of Chicago on Thursday, Salgado set an ambitious goal: He wants at least half of City Colleges graduates to complete a paid internship or apprenticeship in their field of study before they leave for a four-year university or career.
“It’s eminently doable in this city, and yet we haven’t gotten it done,” Salgado told a crowd of students, faculty members, and business leaders. “It’s time to get it done.”
This means increasing the number of participating students to 4,000. Right now, 10 percent of students who complete a degree or certificate engage in some kind of work-based learning experience. That’s roughly 800 students.
“Work-based learning lowers barriers for students, affording them the schedule and piece of mind to complete their education and advance their careers,” Salgado said. “Talk to any of our students about what they go through to persist in college and you’ll understand the importance of a predictable schedule for both work and education.”
Salgado said he’s still figuring out a timeline for the community college system to achieve this goal. First, he wants to meet with business leaders over the next few months to increase the number of apprenticeship opportunities.
“I want to act with a sense of urgency, but this is where we really need to bring a set of partners together to really map out what it’s going to take,” he said.
Each internship or apprenticeship program will be different depending on the company. While some apprenticeship programs, like AON, take students in their first year, other companies may take students closer to graduation.
This new goal is part of Salgado’s larger plan to increase City Colleges’ partnerships across sectors, from Chicago Public Schools to four-year universities and employers. During his City Club speech, he touted the city’s dual credit program, which allows CPS students to take classes at City Colleges during high school, and the STARS scholarship program, which provides free tuition at City Colleges to any CPS student who graduates with at least a B average.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel tapped Salgado to run the seven-college system last year, after the previous chancellor, Cheryl Hyman, resigned after a controversial reorganization of the system. Before he became chancellor, Salgado was the CEO of Instituto del Progreso Latino, a nonprofit on Chicago’s Southwest Side that works to build economic stability. He was named a MacArthur “genius” grant fellow in 2015.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Eddie Richardson, the AON apprentice.