Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (2024)

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (1)

Lisa M. Bly-Jones, Ed.D.


The Chicago Jobs Council

As CEO of the Chicago Jobs Council, Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones brings a unique perspective forged from her own beginnings in a workforce development program. With a steadfast belief in the power of relationships, she navigates the complexities of workforce development with an eye toward equity and empowerment. Lisa's tenure is marked by her ability to turn challenges into opportunities for growth, both for the council and for Chicago's communities. Her leadership is defined by action, advocacy, and a commitment to creating pathways that uplift individuals directly from the communities she serves.

What is your role at Chicago Jobs Council, and how long have you been in this position?

Since stepping into the role of CEO at the Chicago Jobs Council in January 2022, I've navigated our organization through the ever-changing world of workforce development. Amidst the backdrop of the pandemic, I've aimed to guide our team with a mix of thoughtful leadership and adaptability. My focus has been on identifying what the members of CJC need and how to best drive positive change in our field.

What was your first job? What age were you when you started?

I was 14 when I got a job as a receptionist at a cleaners in our apartment building's lobby, which also doubled as a package collection point. This role introduced me to the importance of being pleasant and with my natural curiosity, I would engage people with basic chit-chat or more deep discussions related to philosophical views on the world. I had the chance to connect with the entire building community, from young folks to seniors and this is where I really started to become a conversationalist.

What was your educational path like? Did it mirror that of your family?

My education started at Holy Angels Catholic school on the Southside, and I continued my Catholic education by attending Cathedral High School on the Near Northside.

Instead of going to college after high school, I enrolled in a workforce program out of the mayor’s office in Chicago, which allowed me to land a job that provided tuition reimbursem*nt. This allowed me to start my journey in higher education at what is now Harold Washington College. From there, I continued to pursue education, while working full-time and eventually received a terminal degree with a doctorate in Education. I’m proud to be a first generation college graduate in my family.

What was your first full-time job and how did you secure it?

I started my first full-time job as a typist at Commerce Clearing House, ironically which I obtained through a Chicago workforce development program. I came across a TV ad that encouraged viewers to join the program, and I applied. Thankfully, my high school typing skills allowed me to pass their test and secure the position. Although the commute was challenging, I am grateful for the opportunity as it set the foundation for my career path. A workforce development program got me my first full-time quality job, which included health benefits, paid time off and tuition reimbursem*nt. How fitting, that my professional career would feel like it’s come full circle.

Removing obstacles and barriers so that individuals can realize their potential is deeply fulfilling.

Tell me about your career progression.

After leaving Commerce Clearing House, I worked at the United States Postal Service and was promoted several times while finishing my graduate degree. I quickly found my calling in leadership and moved on and eventually became the Chief Professional Officer of the South-Southwest Suburban United Way and my interest in workforce development was ignited. In a variety of leadership roles at community colleges, I designed and developed occupational training programs that led to employment and was fortunate to share those best practice models with colleagues across the country.

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (3)

As the Executive Director of the workforce board in Rockford Illinois, I became deeply involved with economic development while working with the mayor and other elected officials. It’s critical that workforce needs are aligned with occupations when planning for business attraction, retention and expansion to promote economic growth in local communities.This position emphasized the importance of equity and advocacy in my work. Now, I focus on increasing workforce development funding, understanding local economies, and meeting community needs with improved training investments.

What obstacles have you had to overcome in your career?

One of the biggest hurdles I've overcome is the need to value incremental change and realize that things don’t always move at my pace.I’ve developed a deep appreciation for identifying stages of progress.The world of policy and advocacy takes time and requires persistence. As a workforce practitioner, I was accustomed to measuring outputs. Now, I’m looking to measure impact and remain patient with the process.

What have been keys to your success?

My success stems from a mix of flexibility, self-compassion, inclusivity, curiosity, and the desire to connect with others. I'm focused on results, but I've learned to value different forms of success and adapt as necessary. Celebrating every achievement, whether big or small, is important to me.

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (4)

I strive to unite people around common goals, which invigorates our work and drives change. Removing obstacles and barriers so that individuals can realize their potential is deeply fulfilling. My journey is marked by our shared progress, the objectives we reach together, and the lasting relationships built along the way.

Tell me what it's like to work at the Chicago Jobs Council. What makes it special or unique?

Working at CJC is truly unique because it allows me to be my full self—a passionate advocate dedicated to identifying and addressing barriers for the greater good. It's empowering to voice concerns and push for positive changes within the system.

What makes this experience even more special is collaborating with the team at CJC, our members and partners who share a deep commitment to our mission. We are committed to making significant changes in the workforce system and passionately pursuing justice. This shared passion and purpose create a remarkable work experience.

What is the Chicago Jobs Councilhoping to achieve in the next few years?

In the next few years, the Chicago Jobs Council aims to make a significant impact in two key areas. One, we're focusing on the clean energy sector, specifically ensuring the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) moves beyond legislation to effective implementation. This involves closely monitoring workforce development programs, contractor activities, and the allocation of federal infrastructure dollars. We want to guarantee that these initiatives truly benefit communities with quality jobs and equitable opportunities.

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (5)

Another key area is dedicated to supporting those who are justice-impacted and face barriers to employment. Our advocacy efforts are rooted in the belief that there is dignity in meaningful employment. CJC wants all people to thrive through employment and wants to ensure that everyone can realize quality employment based on each individual’s unique pathways.

What significant challenges is CJC facing at the moment?

CJC is challenged with the need to increase fundraising efforts and the ability to effectively tell our story. As an intermediary that doesn’t provide direct services, we are often working hard to communicate how we work on behalf of service providers, jobseekers and the entire workforce ecosystem. We’re often operating behind the scenes to educate policymakers, support community-based service providers and promote awareness of workforce issues.

Getting our message across in a world full of noise requires the ability to prioritize where resources should be directed while strategically looking to maximize impact

What in your opinion should employers in Chicago and Suburban Cook County be doing more of, or less of, to hire and retain talent?

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (6)

Employers should connect more with the workforce development system to gain insights into their local economy, such as competitor wages and community demographics. This knowledge can lead to more inclusive hiring and jobs that people actually want.Considering apprenticeships and upskilling current employees along with creating a welcoming workplace that makes recruited employees feel as though they belong can help attract and retain a broader range of candidates.

The pandemic has prompted employers to revisit benefits and job structures to align with current employee preferences. Collaborating with the workforce development system can help employers tap into a diverse talent pool and start honest conversations about needs and opportunities. It's all about widening the net in recruitment and making sure everyone has access to opportunities. In the end, it makes the whole workforce stronger.

Why and under what circ*mstances should employers engage with the Cook County workforce ecosystem?

Small to mid-sized employers in Cook County, often stretched thin with time, should consider partnering with the workforce development ecosystem to access resources that they may not know exist. There are funding resources like JTED (Job Training and Economic Development) programming that foster community-business partnerships, On-the-Job Training (OJT), and Incumbent Worker Training that’s meant to upskill their current workforce. JTED has its roots in the Chicago Jobs Council as an innovative model to support training programs developed in partnership with local businesses to serve the local community. Collaborative efforts are meant to develop strong relationships that lead to successful partnerships.

Drawing inspiration from a sentiment often linked to Shirley Chisholm, I see serving others as our "rent" for living on this Earth. I believe it’s a responsibility for businesses to act as corporate citizens.

When partnerships are successful, there's a golden opportunity to become a champion of workforce development services. Employers can share their success stories and also consider mentoring smaller businesses. This creates a ripple effect and can enhance the entire local economy by working on both supply and demand.

Are there funding streams that are underutilized by employers in your experience?

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (7)

In my experience, many employers underuse tax credits for hiring. While larger companies may claim these benefits, their subcontractors, who do the actual work, often lack information about them. This indicates a substantial knowledge gap and highlights the need for better education on how tax credits function and their effective use.

Workforce development professionals have a role to play here. We can provide guidance and education to both employers and their subcontractors. Informing employers about the tax credits and showing them how to access these tax credits can free up more resources for hiring and growth.

What advice do you have for employers who would like to engage?

My advice is to connect with a business service specialist who understands your industry and knows the local labor market. Sector strategies are key—they offer a platform to network, learn from peers, and stay updated on industry trends. This not only enriches your knowledge but also opens doors to potential collaborations.

Learn about sector partnerships from theChicago Workforce Funder Allianceand theChicago Cook Workforce Partnership.

Great strides have been made with sector partnerships, both made up of city and county stakeholders, utilized as a valuable resource for employers looking to engage more deeply with the workforce system.

How, if at all, do you believe Chicagoland employers should contribute to addressing poverty and inequality in Chicago neighborhoods?

Drawing inspiration from a sentiment often linked to Shirley Chisholm, I see serving others as our "rent" for living on this Earth. I believe it’s a responsibility for businesses to act as corporate citizens.

Businesses should aim to hire in local communities to support local economies and improve the quality of life in those communities by offering accessible jobs. Good community members actively contribute to the overall well-being of their community and are willing to offer options for improvements.

What,if anything, should be done to support employers who hire entry-level talent from Chicago's most challenged neighborhoods?

Incentives matter. It’s important to recognize top notch employers and reward their commitment to nurturing talent. Just as individuals are appreciated for skill and career advancement, businesses that invest in hiring and developing a local workforce should also be acknowledged.This strategy creates a win-win and a more inclusive and dynamic job market.

Why is supporting employers and entry-level talent important to you personally?

Being able to see it all come together is what’s most impactful.Seeing someone get employed in a job that they feel is right for them can be transformative. I know firsthand how the right opportunity can affect the trajectory of someone’s life and have a profound effect on an entire family.

Throughout my life, I’ve been passionate about standing up against injustices on behalf of others. Being able to connect with people, share their experiences, and advocate for resources that can contribute to their success is something that matters to me deeply and I consider it a true privilege to do this work.

Dr. Lisa Bly-Jones of the Chicago Jobs Council: The Impact of Strategic Leadership on Workforce Growth (2024)
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