posted: January 26, 2016 7:08 pm

Last summer, Get IN Chicago teamed up with Smart Chicago for its inaugural Youth-Led Tech program.  Billed as a combination of mentoring, technology, and workforce development, Youth-Led Tech gave 141 young people in Austin, Englewood, Humboldt Park, North Lawndale, and Roseland six weeks of web design instruction and support.  By the end of the summer, all graduates had created their own WordPress websites and earned a Microsoft laptop to keep up their skills.

screen shots 2015

Check out Smart Chicago’s photo gallery of screen shots from the 2015 Youth-Led Tech websites.

Youth unemployment is at crisis levels in parts of our city, especially for young men of color on the South and West Sides.  A recent report by University of Illinois Chicago’s Great Cities Institute (and commissioned by Get IN Chicago grantee Alternative Schools Network) showed that young black men in Chicago were almost 6 times more likely to be out of work or disconnected from school than their white peers.  For Hispanics, the results were similarly startling, with that group more than three times likely to be jobless or unenrolled. These findings illustrate the reality of life in many of Get IN Chicago’s focus communities.  With few entry-level jobs available, and few young people with enough work experience to secure those that do exist, it’s no surprise that many youth simply give up or turn to illicit activities.

But we know that certain job industries are in need of top talent, and we know that our youth are up for the challenge.  We believe that 13-18 year olds who develop their interest in technology can become 20-30 year olds with an enormous chance at employment.  After all, the Department of Labor anticipates 186,600 new software development jobs by 2024.  And while job skills are crucial, we were also proud that Youth-Led Tech was more than just a workforce development program.  Youth-Led Tech also provided a safe place for teenagers to spend their summer, linked them with valuable mentors and caring adults, and made technology fun.

Smart Chicago Executive Director Dan O’Neil discusses their partnership with Get IN Chicago and how his team recruited the most at-risk youth 

Last week, the Get IN Chicago Board of Directors approved a renewal and expansion of Smart Chicago’s Youth-Led Tech for Summer 2016.  This summer, the program will focus on Austin, North Lawndale, and Roseland – and more importantly, on our Get IN Chicago demographic: the most at-risk youth, such as those who are justice-involved or chronically truant.  Along those lines, Smart Chicago will also offer the program at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center.

Smart Chicago plans to reach 300 youth with Youth-Led Tech this summer.  We are incredibly excited to support their work again!  Our partnership is a perfect example of how Get IN Chicago is using innovation and cross-sector collaboration to create safer communities, brighter futures, and better opportunities for youth in our city.

To get the latest updates about Youth-Led Tech as they gear up for Summer 2016, be sure to follow Smart Chicago!

20436438015_9d9e59d18f_oGraduates from 2015’s Youth-Led Tech program pose at their closing ceremony (Photo: Smart Chicago)