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Job leads in the palm of a hand

Thu, Sep 13, 2012

Kauzu staff at Centers for New Horizons Kauzu.Jobs smartphone application launch.

The City of Chicago has partnered with a new cell phone application that puts neighborhood job searches literally in the palm of the hand for low-income youth age 18 to 29.

Kauzu is a Chicago-based social venture that provides free location-based job tools and free job postings for jobseekers as well as applications for small businesses. Community-based organizations on both the South Side and the northwest side tested the application with young jobseekers prior to its official launch August 28 at Mather High School, 5835 N. Lincoln Ave.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor, (40th ward), chair of the Chicago City Council Workforce Development and Audit Committee, had previously identified the social venture within his ward and highlighted efforts to work with local chambers of commerce and civic leaders to showcase Kauzu.biz to the community. This job-posting app allows businesses to post, delete and update listings from any mobile device or computer. Employers can also review analytics: how many jobseekers reviewed their listings, (not just how many applied), sorted by time and distance.

The information is always free to the jobseeker and to the small business, generally those hiring less than 48 people a year, according to Paul Cusimano, Kauzu outreach coordinator.

Kauzu.jobs, meanwhile, allows young people to access jobs from any smartphone or anything with a web browser. The program pinpoints the user’s location on a map that shows nearby entry-level jobs in retail and service industries, for example.

Kauzu CEO Mitch Schneider noted that mobile phone users age 18 to 29 with income under $30,000 are connected to their cell phones for 81 percent of a typical day. In addition, more than half of lower-income Americans own basic cell phones. “We thought they all deserved a smarter way to find jobs.”

Basic cell phone users can access the Kauzu Kono text-based application. A Kono user can establish location in two ways: by texting a nearby Chicago Transit Authority stop ID to Kono, or by texting the first three letters of two nearby intersecting streets. Kono will text back the three job listings closest to that location, and more upon the jobseeker’s request. The service is free, though standard messaging rates may apply.

Kauzu Kono partnered with the Albany Park Community Center (APCC) to introduce the basic cell phone application in early August.

“Usually there’s a big disconnect between the jobseeker and the employer and the goal is to shorten that gap,” said Harold T. Rice, CEO of the APCC. Rice said it strengthens the community when young people find jobs close to home.

“If you live local and work local, you will spend local,” Cusimano explained. People with shorter commutes have more overall job satisfaction, he said. They pay less money on gas and transit so they have more left over to spend as they wish. They are less likely to miss shifts or be late due to unreliable transportation.

Kauzu volunteer Chorise, a StreetWise vendor, signs up job seekers.

Employers also benefit when workers live nearby, he said. Turnover is diminished and they can find replacements more easily. Staff may even come back as customers – and bring their friends.

Easing the search for what might be a young person’s first job, paying $9 to $15 an hour, was important to Rice. “Typically, that age group [18 to 29] might not have the wherewithal to go out of the community for jobs,” he said. In other words, proximity to the job is key to obtaining it and keeping it.

The ability to stay in the neighborhood could also be important to parents who have children and who wish to work close to home so that they can avoid late fees for their care, said Andre Kellum, director of workforce development at the Centers for New Horizons. The Centers partnered with Kauzu.jobs for its launch on August 16 at the Charles Hayes Family Investment Center, 4859 S. Wabash Ave. Kauzu signed up all 154 youth, age 16 to 24, who had recently completed the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program.

Low-income has not been a barrier to young people in accessing this technology, Kellum said.

“You’d be surprised that many of these individuals use those type of phones as opposed to landlines,” Kellum said. “They have access to internet and email because they are able to access pay-as-you-go phones, not traditional contract phones month to month. They pay for the minutes they use and have access to other benefits such as internet and text messaging.”

The Centers for New Horizons program is designed to expose disadvantaged individuals to computer training, but Kellum said the 16- to 24-year-olds already use smartphones in their everyday living, unlike those in their mid-30s to 40s.

“The kids pretty much know the technology,” he said. “Kids, a lot of them don’t even talk to each other in the same room, they send a text. Unfortunately, individuals in office cubes send email rather than get up and talk to each other. Young people are more prepared in relation to the technology than the adults.”

The Centers welcomes Kauzu’s free smartphone application because, “it exposes our jobseekers to another way of finding employment, teaching them skills they will need to have to stay competitive.”

Kellum said Kauzu also gives young people a picture of jobs they might not have otherwise seen in their communities. As they scroll over the map of their neighborhood, the bubble icon will show various businesses with openings. Individual youths might not have been interested in a given company, but they will know the jobs were there, “so that besides McDonald’s was hiring, they would see the local not for profit was hiring, the local government agency, the private sector business they were never exposed to.”

While some of the young people in the Mayor’s summer jobs program will be back in school this fall, high school graduates and those 18 and over will be expected to work at least 20 hours a week if live in public housing, 30 hours if they live in mixed income developments, Kellum said. Still others who are 16 or 17 and in school might be the primary breadwinner if the mother in the household is not skilled enough to hold down a stable job, he said.

The Centers for New Horizons average 250 nonduplicated clients each month. In its last fiscal year, it placed 253 people in nonsubsidized employment; 184 of them were retained at least 90 days.

Last month’s 33 unsubsidized placements averaged $11.90 an hour. They included airline fuel and ramp agents, dispatchers and passenger services agents, janitorial maintenance workers, administrative support staff, a bill collector, a certified nursing assistant and a youth coordinator at a nonprofit.

During the August 28 event, Alderman O’Connor and Kauzu recognized the Edgewater, Lakeview East, Uptown, Lincoln Square, Lincoln Bend and South Chicago Chambers of Commerce, which were also learning about the new job-seeking model. Also recognized was Goldie’s Place, a support center for homeless people located in the 40th ward, and StreetWise.

“Kauzu” is the Esperanto word for “cause” and reflects the nearly year-old Chicago startup’s focus on creating social change by transforming how jobseekers and employers connect.

Suzanne Hanney, StreetWise Editor-In-Chief

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