Obama Foundation Launches Workforce Initiative to Build the Obama Presidential Center.

On the heels of a successful completion of the federal review process for the Obama Presidential Center (OPC), the Obama Foundation announced details of a new workforce initiative. The OPC Construction Workforce Initiative will create an inclusive construction workforce trained with skills to build the OPC, and create a diverse pipeline of talent that can be funneled to construction projects across the city.

“We need to work toward a day where the people building Chicago look like the people who live in Chicago,” said Michael Strautmanis, Chief Engagement Officer of the Obama Foundation. “We’re trying to create something lasting with this initiative—something that goes beyond building the OPC to include the development of a program that will place local community members on construction jobs across the city well into the future.”

The OPC Construction Workforce Initiative includes three pillars:

  • Setting the Bar: Our goal is for 35% of the construction workforce to come from targeted areas on the South and West Sides of Chicago.
  • Breaking Down Barriers: We will support diverse subcontractors to make it easier for them to compete in bidding for the project and offer financial assistance for workforce participants.
  • Engaging the Community: We have committed $850,000 to a partnership with local workforce development organizations to train 400 new apprentices from the South and West Sides.

Setting the Bar: Workforce Goals

The Foundation has committed to awarding 50 percent of the subcontracting packages to diverse vendors, exceeding the City’s goal of 26 percent and 6 percent commitment to minority and women-owned businesses (MBE/WBE) vendors, based on the belief that the team that’s building the Center should look like the community it calls home. Residency requirements, typically focused on Chicago as a whole, will be adjusted to reach the most underserved areas of the city for workforce opportunities. It is estimated the Center will generate up to 5,000 direct, indirect, and induced jobs during and after construction.

“Part of what we are trying to do is model a new way for other developers,” explained Lori Healey, Obama Presidential Center Implementation Lead. “We hope this impacts more than what we’re doing at the OPC but also sets the bar higher for other projects in the city.”

Breaking Down Barriers

After examining the most significant barriers that exist to accessing construction jobs for subcontractors and potential trades applicants, the Obama Foundation is taking steps to make it easier for workforce participants and diverse subcontractors to participate with:

  • Barrier reduction fund: A newly formed fund will offer stipends and financial support to help cover transportation and child care costs for low-income workers, costs for the tools, union fees and other expenses tradespeople are typically made to cover.
  • DEI-focused bidding: To maximize participation from small businesses, many of whom are often kept out of a project of this size because of an inability to scale, the Foundation is breaking up bidding contracts into more than 160 bid packages — double what you would typically see on a project of this size.
  • Prioritizing D&I: Diversity and inclusion will rank at equal or higher levels than other factors, such as cost and experience, in the bid selection rubric to create more opportunity.

Engaging the Community 

The announcement of the OPC Construction Workforce Initiative kicks off what will be a months-long effort to host virtual job training across the South and West sides in partnership with Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, Chicago Women in Trades (CWIT), HIRE360, IBEW-NECA Technical Institute, Revolution Workshop, and St. Paul’s Community Development Ministries. This effort targets those who have previously been left out of the industry – including young people, returning citizens, and women. The goal is to recruit new tradespeople, address their barriers to entry, work with labor unions to assign them to apprenticeships, and place them on projects across the city.

“Some of these support programs existed before, but we applaud the Obama Foundation for bringing us all together to create a unified approach to developing a more inclusive construction workforce,” said Sharon Latson, Program Director at CWIT. “This is the right approach for the right moment, and is going to model how to overcome the barriers that have existed for far too many in our community for far too long.”

Interested applicants can go to https://www.obama.org/opc-jobs/ to start the workforce application process and learn more about upcoming orientation meetings.

Earlier in the process, the Obama Foundation announced the selection of Lakeside Alliance as the general contractor for the project to ensure South Side, Black-owned construction firms profited directly from the project and were part of the decision-making team. Lakeside is tasked with ensuring 50 percent of the subcontracts on the project go to diverse vendors. They have already held more than 150 one-on-one meetings with diverse subcontractors. Interested subcontractors can go to https://www.lakesidealliance.com/opportunities to request a meeting with Lakeside Alliance and learn about upcoming contracting opportunities.

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