Throughout the United States, Jewish communities have always come together to offer a wide range of social service, educational, and support organizations that include vocational training and job placement programs. Chicago’s own Jewish Vocational Service is among the area’s many Jewish nonprofits that reach out to assist the Jewish community and the general public. JVS has been active for more than 125 years, through generations marked by global political conflict, technological innovations, and dramatic social change. The group’s deep roots in Chicago go back to 1884, when it got its start as the United Hebrew Relief Association’s employment office and adopted the goal of helping new immigrants find work after they had fled oppression in Europe.
Over the succeeding decades, JVS has changed names and organizational structures, but its focus on improving the job prospects—and the personal futures—of people in need has never wavered. After World War II, the group assisted refugees and military personnel in integrating into the workforce with new skills and training. Today, JVS continues to serve individuals marginalized, through disability or lack of education and training, in the current highly competitive job market.
JVS believes in the vital importance of work, not only as a means of earning a living, but as a vehicle for personal empowerment, self-esteem, and a way of giving back to one’s community. The organization is among only a handful that offer personalized service tailored to the needs of a diverse group of clients of all backgrounds. JVS receives partner funding from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and other philanthropic organizations.
Here are just a few of the reasons why JVS has earned the community’s support:
1. It serves as a major resource for job seekers. Through skills training, networking opportunities, continuing education programs, and more, JVS can provide a wealth of services for individuals looking for work, hoping to make career changes, or just striving to keep up with the demands of their current jobs. The JVS Adult Employment Services program has assisted thousands of clients—including veterans and people coping with homelessness—in preparing for and securing permanent employment in the Chicago area. The program provides clients with help in pinpointing their unique interests and employment potential, creating a career road map, and learning best practices in job searching, resume-writing, and interviewing.
2. It offers free training programs in specific high-interest fields. The JVS-sponsored Pharmacy Technician Training program can provide an entrée to a well-paying career in a growing industry in just 12 weeks. A recent report from the Occupational Outlook Handbook noted that demand for pharmacy technicians is anticipated to grow more rapidly than that for other jobs—by 20 percent over the decade from 2012 to 2022. The JVS program offers intensive, hands-on training led by instructors who maintain certification at the national level. Graduates of the program earn a pharmacy technician license from the State of Illinois, and many have found jobs with major pharmaceutical chains.
3. It promotes programs for entrepreneurs. JVS can assist new and established entrepreneurs in starting or developing their businesses. The group sponsors a series of free entrepreneur workshops, including one recent three-month course designed to improve basic business skills and to foster participants’ ability to speak the language of business. The Credit Builder Program helps participants build credit, or improve poor credit. And the Duman Entrepreneurship Center offers individualized business counseling sessions, workshops, advice on crafting a business plan, possible capital funding, and other services for emerging entrepreneurs.
4. It champions inclusivity and accessibility for people with disabilities. With a referral from the state’s department of human services, individuals with disabilities can receive a variety of employment-related services from JVS. The program works to meet the needs of young people as well as working-age and older adults whose disabilities may make it more challenging to locate or maintain employment. Working with the goal of eradicating barriers to full employment and professional self-development for these individuals, JVS also serves as a liaison to employers to introduce them to well-qualified and prescreened potential team members with disabilities.
5. It partners with employers to strengthen Chicago’s workforce. JVS’ Employer Partner Program is an absolutely free service that matches local employers with its individual clients at all levels of employment, up to and including senior management. JVS maintains a roster of job candidates with skills in a broad range of fields, including financial management, medical services, customer support, communications and information technologies, and more. As part of its mission of improving the region for employers, employees, and society as a whole, JVS provides employers with information on the tax credits and other benefits they may earn when they open up jobs specifically to people with disabilities.
Among the numerous success stories that have emerged from JVS’ employment assistance programs is that of a Chicago woman downsized from a professional position in corporate human resources. She praised the assistance she received from JVS as superior to that she had obtained through her former’s company’s outplacement program. Another local resident received much more than the loan she originally requested for her start-up apparel business—she also benefited from JVS’ skill-building and business plan-writing support. These individuals and many others provide even more reasons to support the vital work of JVS.