Employment and Jobs

Centering Workers in Workforce Development

November 14, 2022  • Adrian Esquivel & Economic Opportunities Program

Adrian Esquivel, Deputy Director, Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance

Photo of Adrian Esquivel

The Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance (CWFA) is a workforce development funder collaborative, a partner of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, housed at the Chicago Community Trust, the region’s community foundation. The mission of the alliance is to collaborate with employers and other workforce stakeholders to increase employment, earnings, and racial equity for underprepared workers in the Chicago region. CWFA currently funds and supports workforce partnerships in the manufacturing, health care, and early childhood sectors along with initiatives to grow apprenticeship and develop an Equitable Recovery Corps to help prepare workers in key industries to respond to the pandemic.

In the last decade, the organization has worked with 30 funders to support employer-led workforce initiatives while working to improve the workforce system and improve access to quality jobs. According to Adrian Esquivel, deputy director of CWFA, the organization has been working in recent years to shift how it approaches workforce development. “We have tried to specifically highlight the importance of centering humans – workers – in our field of workforce development, which has typically centered employers. To that end, we have been working as a convener of worker centers, labor organizations and workforce development agencies to focus on the issue of workers’ rights, workers’ voice, and worker empowerment,” Adrian says.

Bringing new partners together, particularly those from different types of institutions that may not have collaborated previously can be challenging, but Adrian’s unique background in labor, community organizing, and economic development has helped. Adrian says, “ I use my organizing skills on a daily basis as we seek to find the mutual self-interest of organizations and individuals that may not have realized where that intersection exists.”

CWFA’s efforts to center worker voice and advance job quality is focused in three areas. The organization aims to integrate workers’ rights into institutions that train and educate workers, increase the capacity of local worker centers to help with enforcement of labor laws, and advocate for job quality issues at the local, state and federal level.

CWFA is collaborating with the Labor Education Program at the University of Illinois’s School of Labor and Employment Relations on educating workers about their rights. The program has developed a Workers’ Rights for Workforce Development curriculum that CWFA is helping local partners to integrate into their workforce programming.

Building the Capacity of Worker Centers to Improve Job Quality

CWFA is prioritizing the growth and development of worker centers as one of its strategies to support job quality. To support this goal, CWFA was an inaugural funder of the Raise the Floor Alliance (RTF), a coalition of eight worker centers.

RTF is a nonprofit and legal clinic that aims to improve job quality and workplace standards for low-wage workers in the area. In addition to providing free legal assistance to workers affected by workplace issues, RTF challenges local laws and ordinances that do not support job quality. RTF plays the role of a backbone organization for the eight worker centers it supports, providing research and communications to support campaigns and partnership in advocating for policy change.

The final part of CWFA’s job quality strategy is advocacy  focused on policies that build worker power. CWFA’s work through its early childhood education (ECE) partnership helped support research to shine a light on job quality in the ECE industry. CWFA is now working with employer partners and others to improve job quality and compensation based on the report’s findings.

CWFA’s work, including its policy advocacy, is guided by the organization’s racial equity values explained in CWFA’s Statement on Racial Equity. All funding requests are analyzed through a racial equity toolkit before they are awarded. Adrian says, “Both the Funder Alliance and our home, the Chicago Community Trust, have racial equity in our mission and it is central to our work.”


Centering Workers in Workforce Development: A Profile of @AspenJobQuality Fellow Adrian Esquivel, deputy director of @Chi_WF_Funders.

The mission of @Chi_WF_Funders  is to collaborate with Chicago employers and stakeholders to boost employment, earnings, and equity for local workers. Learn more in this profile of Deputy Director Adrian Esquivel, an @AspenJobQuality Fellow.

The #workforce field often centers the needs of employers over workers. As deputy director of @Chi_WF_Funders, #JobQuality Fellow Adrian Esquivel is trying to change that. He’s focused on amplifying workers’ rights, #workervoice, and worker empowerment.

Here’s how @Chi_WF_Funders works to center #workervoice and advance #jobquality: 1) integrate workers’ rights into education and training, 2) empower worker centers to help enforce labor laws, and 3) advocate for job quality at all levels of government.

The Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance (@Chi_WF_Funders) was an inaugural funder of @RaiseTheFloor, a nonprofit and legal clinic that aims to improve #jobquality and workplace standards for low-wage workers in Chicago. Read more from @AspenJobQuality.

Learn more

Adrian Esquivel is a member of the Aspen Institute’s Job Quality Fellowship, Class of 2022-23. The Job Quality Fellowship is convened by the Economic Opportunities Program.

The Economic Opportunities Program advances strategies, policies, and ideas to help low- and moderate-income people thrive in a changing economy. Follow us on social media and join our mailing list to stay up-to-date on publications, blog posts, events, and other announcements.

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