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The Pritzker Foundation announced today it is giving $10 million over the next five years to The Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) to support and develop promising and more diverse tech talent in Illinois.

The funding will establish the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs at DPI (renderings), which will help Illinois workers better adapt to a challenging and quickly changing economy, and help thousands of women and people of color secure high-paying tech jobs.

The Pritzker Foundation is led by Tom Pritzker, Nick Pritzker, Gigi Pritzker Pucker, and Penny Pritzker.

The Pritzker Tech Talent Labs will launch with two programs:

A high school to career pathway, which includes additional instruction in high-demand skills, such as coding; internship placement; mentorship; additional guidance counseling; and last-mile financial aid and emergency financial support.
Upskilling of existing workers, which includes executive education in machine learning, artificial intelligence and 5G; working with corporations to develop their own training programs; and a master’s degree in tech leadership.
With this funding support, DPI has named Omowale Casselle to be the inaugural Pritzker Director of Tech Talent Labs. Casselle (headshot) joins DPI with a deep background in engineering and technology entrepreneurship. He most recently was the co-founder and CEO of Digital Adventures Inc., which focuses on technology education. He holds a B.S. from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, a M.S. from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and a M.B.A. from Harvard University.

“Covid-19 has worsened our already significant income inequality, accelerated tech adoption and made the need for upskilling even more acute,” said Penny Pritzker, former U.S. Secretary of Commerce and trustee of the Pritzker Foundation (headshot). “We simply must do more to help our workers, particularly women and people of color, acquire the skills needed to adapt and thrive given the accelerating impact of automation and digitization. This important new initiative at DPI will help build a more inclusive economy by increasing opportunity for the diverse talent in our region.”

By 2029, the goal is for the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs to help 7,000 people annually secure jobs, including more than 3,000 women, Blacks or Hispanics.

The need for greater inclusion in the innovation sector is evident. Blacks and Hispanics make up just 12% for Chicago’s tech workforce overall.

”Preparing people for in-demand jobs is a path to a more equitable and racially just society,” said Tim Killeen, President of the University of Illinois System. “Thanks to the support of the Pritzker Foundation and the involvement of Penny Pritzker, who has been committed to building more inclusive growth for decades, we’re linking training and education to jobs, and enabling lifelong learning, so people have a safety net when a recession or automation disrupts their livelihoods.”

Tech jobs today are almost recession proof. The tech industry lost just 1% of its employment in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession and fully regained momentum the following year, when jobs in the sector surpassed 2008 levels.

“What makes this unique is we’re doing this at scale; we’re going big,” said DPI Executive Director Bill Jackson. “The second important feature is that we’re engaging kids early, when students and families need to begin to understand what’s going to be required to get a desirable job.”

In addition to hiring a new director, the Pritzker Tech Talent Labs will partner closely with P33, which is focused on turning Chicago into a top-tier and inclusive technology hub.

“The Pritzker Tech Talent Labs at DPI are going to bring together the business community, local government, educational organizations, and nonprofits to strengthen our tech workforce,” said Brad Henderson, CEO of P33. “But we’re also going to be leaning on corporations to co-invest in training their workers and to put their most high-paying and skilled jobs here. And we’re going to do our part to ensure they have an abundance of applicants to fill those jobs.”

About DPI
The Discovery Partners Institute empowers people to jumpstart their tech careers or companies in Chicago. Led by the University of Illinois System in partnership with top research universities, it does three things: Train people for high-demand tech jobs; conduct applied R&D; and support Chicago’s tech community. With state investment and a new innovation district in development, DPI has the resources to attract, develop, and leverage the most ambitious people and companies the region has to offer — and keep them here.

About Pritzker Foundation
Pritzker Foundation is a Chicago-based foundation whose grantmaking ranges across a variety of projects including education, health, culture, community development and science.

About P33
P33 is a privately funded non-profit focused on driving inclusive, global tech and innovation leadership for Chicagoland. Based on an extensive body of research, P33 works to unlock the potential of the digital age to solve some of the toughest problems facing Chicagoland, such as equitable access to digital careers, talent retention, deep science commercialization and gaps in our growth stage startup ecosystem. Officially launched in 2019, P33 is co-chaired by Penny Pritzker, former Secretary of Commerce and founder and chairman of PSP Partners; Chris Gladwin, CEO and Cofounder of Ocient and Cleversafe; and Kelly Welsh, President of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club of Chicago.