Monthly Archives: May 2015

Thought Leadership: Making Business a Partner in Upskilling and Credentialing the Workforce

All interested parties are aligned on one thing when it comes to both U.S. competitiveness and wages—the paramount need to upgrade worker skills. President Obama has made the earning of credentials and degrees one of his signature issues and community leaders at every level are now focused on training and skill enhancement as much, if not more, than they were on employment.

What is not being fully recognized, however, is what it will take to move people, especially low-wage workers, in the direction of skill attainment. People need income to live, and work is what provides that income. Juggling work and training with life’s many responsibilities is difficult and the benefit of training and credentialing often seems remote and uncertain.

Grant Associates’ experience in operating workforce programs in several states, both One-Stop centers and programs for various target populations, tells us that the concept “if you build it, they will come” does not always apply. More than five years ago, with endorsement from the New York City Department of Small Business Services, which provided the funding, we established Education Centers within one of the city’s One-Stop centers. We worked with the Council for Adults and Experiential Learning (CAEL), an organization that provides career navigation and education counseling for employees. The notion was that the prominence of an onsite Education Center would increase our customers’ interest in learning skills that could lead to advancement—either before employment or once they got a job. We also retained organizations that would provide online training and credentials, with onsite counselors to provide case management that would lead customers to course completion. At the city’s direction, and with special funding, we later established a program dedicated to the advancement of people already working through training and education. More recently, we set up a case management system for students to assist them in completing courses as part of our consulting to a sector program funded under a Social Innovation Fund grant. Each of these efforts was extremely labor intensive and expensive. And even with these supports in place, getting working people to focus on skill development was a huge challenge, often requiring financial incentives to get them to pay attention.

What has not yet received sufficient focus is engaging businesses in supporting their employees in career advancement, using a carrot for course completion: a wage increase. While the country argues over minimum wage levels, an individual company can make changes on its own, tying a real pay increase to completing a course or earning a credential. If such a company provided employees with guidance on which course(s) to take and simplified the process for earning the credential, it would have a full package of incentives and support for upskilling. All of the resources a company needs to build this type of system already exist. The result would be increased wages and, at the same time, pushing people to build their skills.

A company would benefit from such a program in multiple ways, not the least of which would be building its brand as a community leader and as an employer of choice.

We could use a national movement in this direction. The country had such a movement before for hiring people on welfare when President Clinton established the Welfare to Work Partnership—and that was a watershed moment in our country’s effort to move low-income people into the workforce. Let’s at least start this type of dialogue about businesses engaging in upskilling and credentialing.

To learn more about why upskilling and credentialing workers matters, visit the Business Champions website, whose mission is to help more companies build a next-generation American workforce.

Thought Leadership: Helping Returning Citizens Reframe the Future

The riots in Baltimore, triggered by the death of Freddie Gray on April 19, have put America’s broken criminal justice system and its deeper issues – police brutality, racial discrimination and mass incarceration – under a stark spotlight.

The role of the workforce development practitioner helping those exiting prison life to prepare for re-entry into the job market has never been more crucial or valuable. Returning citizens need more than just a job to regain their footing in the world – they are in dire need of constant support in overcoming their barriers, both  psychological and physical.

The psychological effects of incarceration vary from person to person, but no doubt, few from the criminal justice system leave prison life completely unchanged in some way by the experience. Most suffer from the long-term painful consequences of social deprivation and the development of habitual patterns of dysfunctional behavior and thinking. The good news is that these patterns are reversible—with the investment of time, resources and support.

At Employment Works, a career center Grant Associates operates that is solely dedicated to connecting people with a criminal justice history to jobs, it has become clear that much more is required than preparation for employment. What is clear is that a holistic approach with customers is needed, taking into account their background and physical and psychological barriers. Many people with criminal justice backgrounds come from broken homes and experienced some form of abuse long before their incarceration. They generally need help developing interpersonal skills and reframing their view of themselves before they can even begin the job search and interview process.

The first step to helping people transition from a difficult past into a new life that holds the promise of meaningful work, income, stability and a fresh start has to begin with an in-depth objective assessment of each one’s needs and barriers. The assessment helps determine individual need for the basics—food, shelter and clothing, as well as psychotherapeutic support for various issues that would prevent the commitment and focus a job search and continued employment require. They also need an opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas about the type of work they’d like to do, which helps later with the development of a career plan.  Community partners need to be engaged to help with the essentials required to sustain physical life, and once these are in place, the job seeker can truly begin the process of re-imaging the future despite the perceived odds against them.

Perhaps the most critical aspect of work with returning citizens is building a bridge of trust with them so that they realize they are not just a number. This means making sure they understand that they are important as individuals, regardless of the past.  Many returning citizens feel demoralized and have lost all faith in themselves. They must be helped to revisit the dreams they once had and supported in believing in those dreams. If they feel that they cannot return to their original personal and professional goals, they need support in establishing new, positive ones.  Such an investment goes beyond the minutiae of a job search—it encompasses something far greater: the retrieval of who the person was before their conviction.

As workforce development practitioners and mentors, we need to help returning citizens, regardless of their background, shift out of old patterns of how they view themselves and where they fit into society. The key is to recognize that the past does not have to define the future.

Grant Associates Launches Second Back to Work Contract

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Grant Associates launched its second Manhattan Back to Work (B2W) contract in April, adding a new location at 1250 Broadway. Funded by the city’s Human Resources Administration, the B2W program helps job seekers who are on public assistance. The new center is in addition to the B2W program Grant Associates operates in Harlem and at its Seventh Avenue office in midtown Manhattan.

Investing in Returning Citizens, Employment Works Begins Offering OSHA Certification Classes in April

Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) training in construction is now being offered monthly by Employment Works, a program operated by Grant Associates to serve returning citizens. Developed by the U.S. Department of Labor, OSHA training and certification provides attendees with an awareness of safety and health concerns particular to various industries. Job seekers who successfully complete the training are able to schedule an interview for a driver’s helper position at a salary ranging from $17 to $21 an hour. Without certification, this job would cap at less than $17 per hour. “OSHA training will open the door to additional certifications so that job seekers can earn even more money,” Employment Works Director Patricia Brooks said.