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Believe in the Power of Work
Posted By: Elynor Moss on September 15, 2019

Walmart recently sat down with Steven C. Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, to discuss the organization’s focus on training and upskilling, and to find out what he’s learned during his first six months on the job.

Image: Steven C. Preston, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries International

Q: Goodwill® trains so many people each year – both in your own organization and the communities you serve. Why do you have such a focus on training and upskilling?
A: We often talk about the future of work as some far away eventuality we’re preparing for. Although technological innovation and other factors accelerate change, many aspects of the future of work are already at play in today’s job market. According to the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are currently 7.3 million unfilled jobs in the United States, largely because employers are unable to find people with the skills they require. On the other hand, we have 6 million people who are unemployed, 4.3 million who are underemployed and 7.5 million who are working poor. At Goodwill, we’re working to bridge this gap between great opportunity and great need.

Q: Has this always been a focus for Goodwill?
A: For more than a century, Goodwill has enhanced people’s lives, no matter their zip code or background, through one core tenet: if we equip people with the right skills and supports, they can achieve sustainably better futures through employment. We believe the best investment we can make is in the untapped potential of an individual. The resulting financial and human value from that investment will not only benefit that person but also extend to his or her family and community.

We advance this mission through our local, independent organizations that employ more than 130,000 people directly and provide workforce development and other supportive services to millions. This means that every 30 seconds of every business day, a person served by Goodwill earns a good job.

Q: You’ve been in your new role now for six months. Can you share some reflections with us about Goodwill’s mission?
A: I see living reminders of the essential, life-changing impact of our work every day. The need for Goodwill will only increase. So, the most important thing we can do at Goodwill is redouble our commitment to our mission to ensure that the impact of our work today is relevant and expansive. The types of jobs available, where jobs are located, the skills needed to compete, and the profile of our communities are all shifting rapidly — and we must shift with them.

Q: What do you see as most effective in ensuring completion of your training and upskilling programs?
A: Many of the people we serve, such as veterans or displaced workers, are going through life transitions. Others are working to overcome difficult circumstances in their lives, such as lack of education, physical or mental challenges, persistent poverty and prior incarceration. All can build much better futures with a foundation of meaningful employment. With the right support, we see remarkably high success rates for people seeking to advance their lives and careers. And, I believe what drives sustainable success are three driving factors: relevant skills, critical support and coordinated networks.

Q: Can you tell us more about these three factors?
A: Sure thing. All three of these factors are extremely important to not only being successful initially but in sustaining the success long-term.

The first driving factor is having the relevant skills like digital basics that are required for many jobs. These skills are often difficult to acquire. More specialized skills needed for specific jobs require focused training with credentials. People are most successful when we match learning opportunities with an understanding of employment opportunities. For example, in our work with the Walmart Foundation, Operation: GoodJobs provided women veterans with advanced labor market information, which pointed them toward the credentials they would need to expand their options and earn more. We also worked with and continue to work with local employers to train and prepare people for specific roles available in their communities.

Next, there’s critical support which is essential to people who are scaling barriers while managing life. People often lack transportation, child care, stable housing or access to the internet. Coaching and other forms of counseling can keep them on track, connect them to the workforce and help them advance into better jobs. For too many people, despite their commitment or desire to succeed, the journey forward is filled with overwhelming challenges. We’ve found that addressing those impediments is often the key to success.

And, the third factor is coordinated networks that help people simplify access to a continuum of support. It is challenging for individuals to determine both what they need and how to acquire it. Our programs are most successful when we help individuals assess their needs and then receive support through Goodwill and complementary local partners like community colleges, government agencies and other service providers. In addition, working with employers who are committed to engaging with nontraditional job seekers is essential to ensure that all talent gets off the sidelines and connected to paychecks.

Q. So, what do you see as most critical for the incumbent worker?
A. We must respond to the demands of a changing labor market, so we can help people build skills, sustain employment and enhance their earnings potential. The great thing about what Goodwill does is that we don’t offer a Band-Aid. Instead, we help people invest in themselves to change the trajectory of their own lives to sustainably better futures.

I am confident that if our public, private and nonprofit institutions work together, we can build a bridge that spans the gap between the opportunity in our changing job market and the critical needs among many of our neighbors. By doing so, we will address some of the most intractable social issues we face with dynamic, sustainable solutions.

Steven C. Preston is the president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International (GII). Connect with Steve on Twitter @StevenCPreston. To learn more about Goodwill and their programs, check out their annual report and follow them on social @GoodwillIntl.

Local Goodwill organizations were recently awarded more than $1 million in grants from Walmart to support programs that help build on or accelerate cross-sector, upskilling efforts for incumbent workers within the communities of Knoxville, TN; Tyler, TX; and North Charleston, SC.
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