As a founding collaborator in the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance (CWFA) in 2012, Polk Bros. Foundation teamed with five other Chicago foundations to address an urgent need: increasing employment and earnings for underprepared workers. The CWFA approaches this issue from an innovative angle: striving to change workforce outcomes by changing employers’ behavior. The CWFA has now attracted additional funders, raising about $1.6 million annually for its initiatives.
The CWFA has created the Raise the Floor Alliance, a coalition of eight worker centers to address the precariousness of low-wage jobs, emphasizing that without compensation for the full amount earned, paid sick days, and scheduling predictability – all elements of job quality – workers can’t plan other aspects of their lives. The Raise the Floor Alliance has hired an executive director and is developing a shared research and policy agenda.
Equally exciting, the CWFA’s Genesis Movement is a two-year effort with 80 local small and mid-size manufacturing companies. Genesis demonstrates to employers that increasing their investment in skills training for their entry-level and second-tier workforce is a smart business practice, leading to higher profits and a stronger workforce. The CWFA secured more than $1 million in private and federal funding for this important work, including major grants from national foundations.
Already bearing fruit, Genesis pilots in 2014 engaged 14 companies representing approximately 1,800 employees and led to meaningful changes in business practices such as a 10 percent wage increase for key entry-level staff at one company, and the implementation, at another, of a 30-day onboarding process to orient and integrate new employees and reduce turnover.