Middle-Skills Pathways in Chicago

Middle-skill occupations have historically served as an on-ramp to the middle class. In today’s economy, however, there is a crippling skills gap across industry sectors. Research by the National Skills Coalition finds that for Illinoisians, “A majority of jobs (52%) require skills training beyond a high school, but not a four-year degree. But too few of Illinois’s workers — just 41% — have had access to the skills training necessary to fill these in-demand careers.” Given current education and degree production, there is a gap between the workforce that has this level of education and the number of jobs that require it. Local research points to opportunities for greater systems alignment and information to help close this gap. In Phase 1 of Pro Path, an initiative supported by the Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance in collaboration with local education funders, EdSystems and the project team found two particularly relevant challenges: a lack of consistent language and quality information about programs and systems, as well as opportunities for better program delivery and alignment across the system. Stakeholders deeply engaged in the project indicated that essential to the success of individuals trying to navigate the system and enter into quality jobs would be to enhance programmatic information sources and ensure that programs are more easily navigable and stackable.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic’s broad impacts on employment, it is even more essential to ensure that Chicago’s education and training systems are aligned to evolving labor market demand and enable individuals to efficiently obtain quality middle-skills certifications and credentials to succeed in the labor market. Further, transparency and quality information about these programs will enable individuals throughout the region to identify opportunities that are an appropriate match and fit for their interests and goals.

Our Role

To determine how education and workforce partners can advance middle-skills pathways in Chicago, EdSystems conducted a deep landscape analysis of existing pathways that lead to industry credentials and degrees associated with priority occupations. From 2020 to 2022, we completed eleven analyses for the following sectors:

The project was designed to:

  • Inform those involved with system design and implementation
  • Identify policy barriers to effective program progressions for populations of focus
  • Connect to the Chicagoland Workforce Funders Alliance Progressive Pathways initiative
  • Inform employer engagement strategies
  • Inform the funding community of gaps and strategic investment opportunities

Project Resources



  • City Colleges of Chicago
  • Chicagoland Workforce Funders Alliance
  • Chicagoland CareerPathways
Managing Director of Pathways & Operations
Pathways Manager
Managing Director of Policy & Programs

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