Operation ABLE (Ability Based on Long Experience) was organized in 1977 as a not-for-profit organization through a grant from the Chicago Community Trust to place older workers in meaningful employment positions. Between the years 1977-1980, local networks of senior employment agencies were established. Operation ABLE provided technical assistance and training to agencies to improve service delivery to job seekers and employers, and served as an advocate for older workers. Operation ABLE established a hotline as a focal point for job seekers to call for services via referrals to network agencies and for employers to jobs with network agencies.
In 1980, Operation ABLE began operating its first direct service program under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) with offices in Harvey and Oak Park, IL, funded through the President’s Office of Employment Training (POET) under the management of the Cook County Board of Commissioners. Services were provided to economically disadvantaged workers 40 and older. Operation ABLE hosted its first Older Workers Awards Luncheon for workers 55 and older who were nominated by their employers.
In 1982, Operation ABLE became a grantee to the Illinois Department on Aging to operate its federal Senior Community Service Employment Program. Operation ABLE established Able Staffing Resources in 1982 as a social-purpose based temporary and temporary-to-permanent staffing service. By the mid-1980s, Operation ABLE developed a system to replicate its successful employment assistance model, and established eight additional offices nationally.
In the early 90s, a Job Hotline was established to unite older workers, employers, and the ABLE Network of government and community-based agencies. In 1993, 6,323 job seekers called the Job Hotline, and 1,093 employers listed 3,594 job openings.
In 1992, Operation ABLE administered government-funded Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) in four areas: South Suburban Cook County, Chicago, North Suburban Cook County, and Will County.
By 1996, Operation ABLE experienced additional growth in government-funded programs, including the administration of one of Chicago’s five One-Stop Career Centers in Pilsen. In 1998, Operation ABLE acquired the ITT Career Training Center, and renamed it the ABLE Technical Training Center.
In 2003, Grace Powers joined Operation ABLE as President & CEO. Ms. Powers led national rebranding efforts, renaming the agency National Able Network, Inc. Under Ms. Powers’ leadership, revenues grew from less than $5 million to nearly $30 million. The organization also broadened its programming to include additional national offices on the East Coast and Indiana, as well as specialized services for special populations, including veterans, single mothers, non-native English speakers, and public housing residents.
In 2005, Ms. Powers established Able Career Institute, which is certified by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
In 2009, National Able Network opened the Chicago Workforce Center in Pilsen. The 22,000 sq/ft, state-of-the-art facility is home to National Able Network and more than a dozen public and private partners. During his first visit to the Chicago Workforce Center, former Mayor Richard Daley said, “At a time when the national and local economies are undergoing a significant transformation, Chicago’s workforce training and development programs are more important than ever to the economic future of the city.” Alderman Daniel Solis called the Chicago Workforce Center “a beacon of light for job seekers and businesses in Chicago’s 25th Ward affected by the economic downturn.”
In 2011, National Able Network was selected to provide Workforce Investment Act services for approximately 7,000 job seekers in 54 municipalities throughout North and South Suburban Cook County through grant awards made by the Workforce Board of Northern Cook County and Cook County Works.
In 2016, National Able Network was selected to provide services to residents ages 55 years old or better in New Castle County, Delaware through the Senior Community Service Employment Program. This program is funded by Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.