Today's blog post is submitted by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos. Joyce interviews Dr. Pam Howze of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

I recently interviewed Pam Howze, program director for work-based learning for the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, to talk about their programs for workforce development.  Her organization works with leaders in business, education, philanthropy, and workforce development nationally and in their more than 30 partner communities to invest in and scale innovative models that connect individuals to in-demand skills, generate good jobs, and help American business find and develop the talent critical for their success.

Although our economy is booming and unemployment is at record lows, there are still lots of people in the US who are unemployed or underemployed.  During our conversation, we talked about how her organization helps to connect them to good jobs. I asked Pam the following questions. You can hear her answers by pressing the play button at the bottom of this post.


  1. Pam, can you please explain what the National Fund for Workforce Solutions does – and what is your role within the organization?
  2. Can you please explain the various pathways through which the NFWS assists jobseekers, employers and communities?
  3. Can you share some of your success stories?
  4. There are a lot of government, local social service, and educational programs scattered across the landscape of workforce development.  What does NFWS do differently or better?  What does it take to scale these types of efforts?
  5. How can jobseekers or employers connect with NFWS?

Today's post comes to us courtesy of board member Dan Schawbel, Research Director at Future Workplace and author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.

The skills gap continues to persist in America and on the last business day of February of this year, there were 6.1 million job openings, with little changed from the previous month. Companies, and employees, both suffer when job openings go unfilled, especially over a long period of time. The average cost HR managers say they incur for having extended job vacancies is more than $800,000 annually. In a new survey by Future Workplace and The Learning House of 600 U.S. HR leaders, with half representing small businesses of fewer than 1,000 employees, we found that almost half of companies are blaming colleges for not preparing students for jobs. A third of those surveyed agree that colleges are most responsible for getting an employee ‘work ready’ yet more than 40 percent of companies have not collaborated with colleges to make curriculum more responsive to workplace needs.

With the intense pressure to fill critical job roles, some companies are bypassing colleges altogether. The failure to close the skills gap has resulted in stalled growth, a stressed workforce and a lack of innovation. The study found that companies are turning to other channels and technologies to solve this problem. An entire 90 percent are dropping the four-year college degree requirement and are now more open to hiring candidates with a recognized certification (66%), online degree from a MOOC (47%) or even a digital badge (24%). Both EY and PwC have already dropped the traditional college degree requirement and are hiring non-traditional candidates to broaden their talent pools. The smaller companies surveyed that have less of a brand presence, and fewer resources, were more open to hiring untraditional candidates because they have to be more agile and less selective.

In addition, 40 percent of employers believe artificial intelligence (AI) will help fill the skills gap by making hiring more efficient, eliminating unconscious bias and taking over routine tasks. The study found that employers are only investing $500 in the training and development of each employee and 40 percent are outsourcing to vendors to handle it instead. The smaller companies surveyed have less money to invest per employee, which skewed the results, while companies like AT&T, who announced they are investing more than $1 billion to retrain over 100,000 workers.

Companies are under pressure to fill their skills gap in new ways out of desperation and a realization that colleges simply can’t keep up with the ever-changing demands of the marketplace.

Photo by Adrian Williams on Unsplash

With the publication of today's monthly jobs report, unemployment in the US has fallen to 3.8%, the lowest it's been since early 2000.  A MarketWatch article in May said that "for the first time ever, there's a job opening for every unemployed worker".  Organizations across the industry spectrum are scrambling to find the help they need.  This is good news if you are a job seeker with the right skills and experience - and in the desired location - that make you a fit for the rising number of open jobs in the US.

This rising tide of job openings isn't benefiting everybody, though.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics chart below shows the labor force participation rate (LFPR) trend over the last 20 years.  Applied to people 16-64 years old, the LFPR represents the sum of employed people plus unemployed people seeking a job divided by the civilian non-institutionalized population.

You can see that this metric has declined overall (red line) in the last 20 years.  This analysis from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta cites a number of reasons why this is true - an aging workforce and their attendant health issues, discouraged workers who've given up looking, and the impact of the opioid crisis, among others.  You can also see that this decline is much more pronounced among young people 16-19 years old. Certainly many in this age group are in school - but that would have been the same for this age group 20 years ago as well.

Perhaps some of this decline is attributable to young people taking unpaid internships  to build their resumes.  This cohort is likely earning college degrees and will enter paid employment as they earn those credentials.  What's also going on, though, is the growing population of "disconnected" or "opportunity" youth.  According to Opportunity Nation, an advocacy organization focused on closing the opportunity gap for young people, there are over 5.5 million (1 in 7 young adults aged 16-24) who are neither in school or employed.  This ranges from a high of 17.4% of this age group in New Mexico to a low of 7.2% in New Hampshire.

Clearly, these young people will need help to enter the job market.  I've written before about organizations like UTEC and CHAP that connect entry level workers with training and job opportunities.  Just this week, I saw this story from the South Bend Tribune about how the public school system is adding a "Grade 13" program to boost the workplace readiness of student going directly from high school to work.  According to the article "Companies say they can teach new workers the technical skills but that’s more difficult with “soft skills,” such as communication and reliability".

My first job was helping with administrative work at a fish processing plant.  Full disclosure - my Dad was the boss.  I had a foot on the ladder with no effort required on my part.  My first job outside the family business was working in a hospital lab during college - where a coworker kindly told me that I never stopped whistling and singing to myself and that I needed to quiet down.  Over the course of those first few jobs in my teens and early twenties, I learned how to be a productive member of a team as I was shaped by those jobs.

We all have to learn what it takes to make it at work - from showing up on time, to how to dress, and how to navigate a relationship with supervisors and coworkers.  That transition is never easy.  What's going on in your organization or your community to help disconnected youth take that first step?

May 2018 Civilian labor force participation rate 16 to 19 YO

Featured image on post courtesy of rawpixel@rawpixel




Today's post is from Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute @Kronos.

Here at the Workforce Institute, we love stories about organizations that focus on their employees' experience.  This video story about Goodwill of Central and Coastal Virginia is a great example.  One of the employees in this video talks about how much she values working for "a mission minded company that makes a difference in our community".

Goodwill describes their mission as follows:

Goodwill® strives to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by helping people reach their full potential through education, skills training and the power of work.

It's clear that for the employees and community members featured in this video, these are just words on an inspiration poster on the wall.


Kettle Cuisine 1 Kettle Cuisine 2Kettle Cuisine was founded in the Boston area in 1986 and have their headquarters in Lynn, Massachusetts.  They make small batch, all natural soups from scratch for restaurants, food service operations and grocery retailers nationwide.  They employ about 275 employees, many of whom are immigrants to the United States.  I was introduced to their Sr. VP of Innovation and Process, Nick Murphy, at a local food pantry where Kettle had donated soup for the guests, in keeping with their mission of helping to address food insufficiency in the local community.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting their headquarters in Lynn, and meeting with Nick and his colleagues, Director of HR Ann Hargraves and HR Manager Julie Roix (pictured left to right in the photo above).  Kettle has prospered for 30 years by focusing on their culture and their employees. In the photo here that illustrates their value of "Honor each other" you see rows of wooden spoons on the wall.  Each one represents an employee, and is decorated by that employee.  A small, but personal touch to drive home the value of every team member.

They have a great story that powerfully illustrates the benefit of investing in your employees in order to build a great business.  I recorded our conversation, and you can listen in on the podcast link below to hear their story directly from them.  We discussed the following topics, among others:

  1. Kettle Cuisine founder Jerry Schafir placed a significant emphasis on culture from the start.  How are the values he established still going strong today?
  2. Ann Hargraves speaks about investing in the whole person in order to engage and retain your employees.
  3. Most of their employees are immigrants to the United States. Learn about the various programs Kettle has put in place to help them thrive at work (and outside of work and beyond Kettle).
  4. Although many of their jobs are entry level and hard, they have a number of employees who’ve been with Kettle for 15+ years. What is it about Kettle that encourages this kind of retention?
  5. What challenges are they facing as the business expands - and what are they doing to address these challenges?

Please click on the player below to hear our conversation.

I was chatting with our board member Mark Milliron yesterday, and he mentioned this  2-year tech college in Missouri that is grading classroom students not only on course content, but also on job readiness.  Mark was saying that potential employers are (not surprisingly) very interested in the job readiness score.

The college is Linn State Technical College.  Their president describes their mission as follows:  "The college's primary mission is to prepare students for profitable employment and a life of learning."  According to statistics on their website, 95% of LSTC graduates found gainful employment or continued their education within six months of graduation since 1995.  Perhaps lots of other educational institutions are doing this, but it's the first I've heard of it.

Here is how Linn State describes their approach to grading:

In addition to the academic grades listed on transcripts, a job readiness work ethic score and an attendance percentage are issued for each class completed. This value-added service to students is a result of industry advisory council member input. Job readiness work ethic scores and attendance percentages are not applicable to the following types of classes: online, independent study, special topics, internship, clinical, seminar, self-paced math, dual credit and dual enrollment (located at high schools).

AJA@â„¢LSTC information is recorded on the student transcript as follows:
Academic Grades (GRD) = A, B, C, D, F
Job Readiness Work Ethic (JR) = score of 0.0 – 4.0
Attendance (ATT) = percentage of 1 – 100

One issue we hear about a lot at the Workforce Institute is the challenge of helping people get to the first rung on the career ladder; i.e. an entry level job.  We also hear about the challenges of helping people stay there if they are lacking in basic job readiness skills like showing up on time, being courteous and conscientious, etc.  I don't know what the criteria are for Linn State's Job Readiness Work Ethic score, but measuring job readiness sounds like a good first step in the direction of helping students identify issues that might prevent them from taking their first step on the job ladder.

Are any of you seeing or using job readiness criteria to screen candidates for entry level jobs?

I recently attended the Net Promoter Conference in New York City and had the pleasure of hearing Director of Customer Service Tom Graves and CEO Jim Parrish of Carolina Biological Supply talk about how they've grown their business by investing in the skills of their frontline workers.  Carolina supplies college and high school science departments with the equipment and organisms they require to equip their laboratories.

Their story is a great case study for organizations seeking to grow the loyalty of their customers through improving the experience delivered by the employees who interact with those customers on a daily basis.  Carolina achieved success by explicitly measuring their customers' experience, sharing that customer feedback with employees, and providing training to those employees to enable them to better meet their customers' expectations.  Although many organizations undertake similar customer loyalty programs, the extent to which Carolina has involved their customer service reps in driving improved results is unique.

I recently interviewed Tom Graves in order to share the Carolina story with you.  You can listen to a podcast of our discussion here.

In this discussion, you'll hear Tom refer to "NPS".  This stands for Net Promoter Score, a widely used measure of customer loyalty.  You can learn more about NPS here.

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