Accessing overlooked talent pools is great for the Philadelphia workforce
Despite steady gains in job creation, the Philadelphia workforce faces its own challenges: with a poverty rate at 26%, an unemployment rate at 6%, and the labor force participation rate still nowhere near pre-recession levels, many millennials and boomers alike are struggling to find steady employment. And as business owners look for talent that fulfills their needs, they tend to overlook the same talent pools.
On June 8, 2017, Jane and Throw like a Woman (consultants with a social impact angle) hosted a panel discussion, called Workforce Win-Win, which brought Philadelphia businesses, nonprofits, and government leaders together to help close the gap between overlooked talent pools and employers. Clearly, it will require collaboration to provide encouragement for the overlooked, as well as spark motivation within employers. As Lisa Pote, Executive Director at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy and one of the panelists, put it: “A well-oiled workforce machine marries all the resources from all different areas together to help people with barriers find their way to work.”
The panel offered several key takeaways to local employers, educating them on the issues and demonstrating that we can have it both ways – giving overlooked talent pools a chance while helping employers meet their talent needs.
1. Overlooked talent pools span the spectrum of the Philadelphia workforce, and are often misjudged
When we consider those who have the hardest time finding work, we see demographics that span a variety of life circumstances, from impoverished and high risk youth to older demographics — previously incarcerated individuals, veterans, even middle managers who lost their jobs due to industry downturns. We also see groups that aren’t limited in age, such as the disabled.
Phil Walker, Director of Business Development at Year Up, warns us that it would be wrong to assume that all these individuals are just lacking drive. He’s seen it firsthand at a nonprofit that serves young adults by providing them with academic courses, “soft skills” training, and a 6-month internship. Within 4 months of completing the year-long program, 85% of participants are either employed or in school full-time. These talent pools are hungry, and with some mentorship, they can offer the talent that Philly businesses are looking for.
Moreover, the grit and perseverance that overlooked populations are already applying in their challenging day-to-day lives can be directly applied, with great success, to their careers.
2. Employers have very good reasons to engage with overlooked talent pools
It would be wrong to think of hiring from overlooked talent pools as a pure act of charity. Lucy Ford, consultant and Director of Managing Human Capital at St. Joseph’s University, can think of many examples of businesses flourishing and seeing gains in productivity and customer satisfaction because they hired from overlooked talent pools.
A health care system that initiated a program to hire autistic adults saw increased diligence and orientation to detail in their workforce, especially within labs. Based on commentary from managers and coworkers, autistic employees ended up being 2 or 3 times more productive than their neurotypical counterparts. Supermarket chain GIANT has a practice of hiring disabled food baggers. A front-end supervisor is chosen to supervise the baggers, teaching them new skills, while customers look on and feel a genuine sense of respect toward the consideration the company gives to its employees. It’s not a picture that consumers soon forget, and it sets a high standard for social responsibility.
3. There are innovative solutions already under way to bridge the gap
Christine Derenick-Lopez, Chief Administration Officer for the City of Philadelphia, reminds us that “the name of the game is partnerships.” This means partnerships between businesses, nonprofits, and educational institutions. Beyond just throwing individuals into jobs, city leaders seek to foster long-term skill-building in overlooked talent pools. Since employers often don’t want the burden of building skillsets, outside programs have sprung up to teach teamwork, conflict resolution, and more.
PowerCorpsPHL is one such example of a wonderful partnership between AmeriCorps and local nonprofit EducationWorks. Combining work readiness training with a sustainability mindset, PowerCorps engages disconnected young adults with meaningful service work. Meanwhile, the Urban League of Philadelphia launched the Urban Tech Jobs Program to get youth into paid internships and future full-time employment.
With over 9,000 nonprofits in the city, exciting and meaningful work that will shape the future of the Philadelphia workforce is bubbling just under the surface. It’s now just a matter of inspiring employers to look for it.