Workforce Development

Building the Infrastructure of Opportunity for American Latinos

May 13, 2021  • Domenika Lynch & Hector Mujica

As a single mom, Heidi needed a job that paid her enough to provide for her family and offered flexible hours so she could balance work with responsibilities at home. Since moving would require her children to change schools and take her away from her existing support system, she also hoped to find a position near her current neighborhood. Outgoing and good with people, Heidi dreamed of a career that allowed her to use her natural nurturing skills. But without a degree or proper training, many of the jobs she was well-suited for were out of reach.

While it is true that the context of one’s life determines our choices, it is the infrastructure of opportunity available in one’s community that serves as the bridge to transformation. In Heidi’s case, Instituto del Progress Latino was that bridge. Today, Heidi is gainfully employed as a certified nurse assistant. She represents millions of Latinos who are part of the US workforce seeking fulfilling, quality jobs. Heidi found a pathway to a successful career with the support of programs offered through Instituto del Progreso Latino.

Serving families through a suite of services—including workforce development, financial counseling, job placement support, basic adult education, citizenship services, youth education, and more—Instituto offers employer-driven career pathway training that prepares participants for growing industries in Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Now is the time to invest in efforts aimed at spurring Latino economic mobility and ensuring they have the skills for a digital economy.

Representing 17.6% of the American workforce and on track to become 28% of the total US population by 2060, Latinos are poised to be a critical driver of this country’s economy. As the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, Instituto offers lessons in how to harness this power by ensuring Latino workers have the skills and opportunities needed to access quality jobs and build meaningful careers.

  • Building skills to prepare workers for local, in-demand jobs. Partnering with local business leaders enables Instituto to offer curriculum and training programs that prepare students for jobs in Chicago’s fastest-growing industries including healthcare, manufacturing, and retail. Students earn industry-recognized credentials which allow them to move up the career ladder and increase their pay more quickly. As the pandemic accelerates the digitalization of US jobs (over the next decade 50 percent of tasks across all industries are expected to go digital) the curriculum also ensures participants are building the tech skills they need to stay competitive in this shifting landscape.
  • Meeting workers where they are. Instituto designs and implements career pathways tailored to each individual’s current skill level and needs. Some participants begin with literacy instruction in their native language while others may need vocational ESL instruction or help completing college prerequisites. From there, they transition into tailored job training and community college courses. Technology is at the heart of Instituto’s training, offering virtual classes during the pandemic and building up the digital acumen of all participants across their career pathways program. This is especially critical given that 55% of Latinos have little or no digital skills.
  • Giving participants the support they need. To diminish all possible barriers to success, Instituto offers participants academic advising, child care services, transportation assistance, job placement, and other wraparound supports. Additionally, Instituto is known as an engaged and trusted member of the community. In 2020, the organization served as a local food bank, provided free child care to first responders, distributed laptops to support remote learning, and created the first public outdoor hotspot on the Southwest Side.

By offering a curriculum based on industry needs, contextualized education, and significant supportive services, Instituto helps Latinos access the tailored training needed to enter a promising career, build financial stability, and support the broader economy. And—with industry, academic, and philanthropic support—communities throughout the country can adapt and pursue this approach. is working with the Aspen Institute’s Latinos and Society program and other organizations to strengthen the ecosystem that supports Latino workers and entrepreneurs. By building the capacity of Latino-led community organizations, we empower the Latino workforce to play a key role in the nation’s economic recovery. Success requires a collaborative, multi-sector approach that brings together government, philanthropy, industry, and education to create policies and make investments that ensure Latino workers and business owners can access opportunity, accrue wealth, and fully participate in the digital economy. Success also requires voices from those most impacted, ensuring their voice is heard in the development of key solutions.

The American Rescue Plan, Made in America laws, and pending legislation on infrastructure are opportunities to seize more resources to build the local capacity of Latino-led organizations in the frontlines upskilling Latino workers. Now is the time for public-private partnerships to come together and invest in efforts aimed at spurring Latino economic mobility—starting with ensuring Latinos have the technical skills needed to participate in our increasingly digital economy.

To highlight immediate actions for providing the tools Latino workers and entrepreneurs need to build their digital acumen, funded the Latinos and Society program to tap into the expertise of intersectional leaders to explore solutions that are already working and ripe for scaling. Latino Inclusion in the Digital Economy shares these insights and charts a path toward leaning into the potential of the Latino workforce and building a more inclusive economy to truly build back better.

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