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Connecting the Dots

by Jillian McCleaf

Today’s employers are faced with an evolving workforce, shortages of skilled workers and new demands within the professional environment.

Fortunately, they don’t have to navigate this changing landscape alone. Over the last 20 years, there has been tremendous progress in the Philadelphia region to create innovative employment training programs that help companies and their employees adapt to the modern-day employment landscape.

The generation gap
Almost 10,000 baby boomers leave the workforce each day, according to the Social Security Administration. As the number of retirees grows, it could result in a huge skill gap; organizations require a thoughtful plan of succession for future stability. Companies such as EDSI Solutions work with employers to make sure that this transition is as smooth as possible.

As baby boomers withdraw from the workforce, millennials move in with a vengeance. Data from Pew Research shows millennials have recently become the largest generation in the American workforce, even surpassing Gen X. Accounting for more than one-in-three American workers today, they now also outnumber baby boomers as the nation’s largest living generation. As companies inevitably continue to hire grow- ing numbers of millennials, they would be wise to consider how they plan to meet this demographic’s need for purpose and flexibility.

To successfully navigate this transition, companies must adapt to this changing landscape and build an organization that will attract and retain employees from multiple generations. “People are the most important things that drive a company— more so than product,” says Roe Falcone, regional director of operations at EDSI Solutions. “It’s the people. And, I think [employers] showing they’re invested—wanting to offer opportunities and growth and continuing education—is critical to retaining talented employees. People want to feel challenged, and they want to feel like they’re growing. ... Our training program is designed to enhance skill sets—both personally and professionally.”

Companies that are ready to adapt to this changing workforce should:

• Focus on creating a positive culture of self-sufficiency where employees are encouraged to identify with an employer’s core values but empowered with autonomy, not micromanagement.

• Approach employees with clear expectations of tasks, but avoid over managing the details of how each task should be approached.

• Provide a thorough feedback process that offers active and continuous feedback and solicits responses to ensure that the needs of all generations are being understood.

Skilled workers needed
When it comes to challenges that are not generation-based, EDSI trains with a focus on developing self-sufficiency. Creating employee self-sufficiency doesn’t happen overnight. “Getting people to [earn] sustainable wages and to be successful on their own involves enhancing skills,” says Falcone, “[It’s important to] make sure they don’t just have skills for today but the skills for tomorrow and to work with employers to help them obtain that growth.”

In a city where the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows unemployment can peak as high as 7 percent, it seems discordant that many of the largest employers in the Philadelphia area—including the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania, Drexel University College of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania—have experienced challenges in filling available positions. This disconnect between what employers are looking for and what potential employees have to offer has led to a surprising disparity.

In decades past, entry-level employment began with a paper application and a hand- shake. In contrast, modern-day recruitment strategies have become a predominantly online effort. Changing how employers connect with those looking for a job, this online employment process, unfortunately, leaves those who are most disconnected from the online world disconnected from job opportunities as well.

To combat this disconnect, West Philadelphia Skills Initiative (WPSI) of University City District helps companies develop training programs with an emphasis on teaching soft skills such as interviewing skills, career planning, career coaching, financial literacy, professional development and conflict management. Serving five zip codes in Philadelphia, 90 percent of WPSI program graduates were connected to employment last year with an average wage of $13.37. Prior to their involvement in their program, the average participant had been unemployed for 53 weeks.

Alissa Weiss, director of strategic initiatives and communications at WPSI, pro- vides insight into how their company partners are closing this skill gap while investing in the local community. Instead of relying on online machines, WPSI builds training pro- grams with employers to connect local people with local jobs. Through this partnership, organizations provide better access to jobs while working with WPSI to create need- based training programs unique to the employers.

According to WPSI, employment opportunities are not simply about offering a position, but offering the chance to build a career, build a path and do something meaningful. In a scenario where participants are vying for an employer’s jobs, WPSI focuses on creating a culture where competition exists not with each other to be hired by the employer, but a competition to build choices for themselves. For employers, Weiss points out that not only are employees trained in the skills perceived as most desirable by the employer, but they’re also local, thus, typically, more reliable and more flexible.

Instead of “training and praying” (training in a vacuum and hoping that jobs will be available that require that specific skill set), WPSI works with employers to make sure people in the community get to work in the end. Joshua Park, WPSI’s training center man- ager, adds, “At WPSI, we model expectations for the workplace and encourage the behaviors and tools that are needed in a professional environment. We believe training programs that reveal those expectations and enhance soft skills that would benefit any employer.”

Solutions in action
When the Department of Labor projected a shortage of 600 workers needed for residential natural gas providers in the Philadelphia region, PECO identified this deficit as a significant issue that would only grow more pronounced as the current workforce continued to age.

During the 2008 recession, many skilled industrial workers had opted to postpone retirement; now, that same workforce is 10 years older, and employers in the skilled industrial space fear productivity declines in their facilities. With the help of innovative employee training programs, organizations are looking to education to help them step up, promote careers and develop curriculum to train for those gaps.

The combined effort of five community colleges and Drexel University, The Collegiate Consortium provides workforce development programs for employers and prospective employees across the greater Philadelphia region by developing customized training programs that are directly molded by the specific needs of the organization. By working with local high schools, vocational schools and colleges, the Collegiate Consortium creates a unique model for education and training.

To create a solution in this particular situation, PECO reached out to the Collegiate Consortium to develop a curriculum and deliver it to prospective students. Along with their subcontractors including Henkels and McCoy, PGW and Miller Brothers, the Collegiate Consortium spent a year exploring the employer’s specific needs and created a curriculum path to satisfy their requirements.

However, innovation didn’t stop once the curriculum had been developed. Throughout the 190 hours of PECO’s training program, potential employers remained engaged. Students were introduced to engineers, industry professionals and site managers who taught specific topics, offered information and led Q&A sessions with students. The last week of the class included a job fair where students were given the opportunity to further interact with companies. Interviews were conducted on-site.

Dean of workforce development and community at Delaware County Community College (one of the five community colleges that partners with the Collegiate Consortium), Dr. Karen Kozachyn says, “Investing in continuous education demonstrates that you value those employees and their career path- way and recognize the role that they play in the success of the organization overall.”

While employee training programs help employers to reduce on-boarding time and new employee training time, employers often also see greater retention rates, less voluntary employee turnover and fewer resources spent to replace employees. Not only does investing in employee training programs demonstrate a genuine interest in employee success, but it also strongly correlates with the success of the organization as a whole.

Published (and copyrighted) in Philly Biz, Volume 2, Issue 2 (February, 2017).
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