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A look at how innovation in the workforce development field is driving individual and community impact

Under a backdrop of higher inflation, lower unemployment and job growth, we invite you to join us for a deep-dive into some of the most important developments and opportunities shaping the future of employment and workforce development. At InsideTrack, we’re excited about our growing partnerships with workforce organizations and our desire to support individuals across the educational and career continuum. For us, this work is mission-aligned as we look to close equity gaps and increase social mobility with the power of coaching. With that in mind, here are 10 impactful workforce opportunities, including using coaching to help create a well-prepared pool of workers.

Opportunity #1 — Helping eager-to-work individuals find quality jobs

There are millions of eager-to-work individuals that, due to their current circumstances and lack of support, are unable to get off the “sidelines” and into meaningful employment. In an article in The Daily Yonder, Tom Barkin, President of the Federal Reserve Bank in Richmond, gave everyone in the workforce development sector a wakeup call, saying, “We need to do a better job connecting individuals on the sidelines with employment.” Many of those looking for employment face barriers that prevent them from joining the workforce — things like a mismatch in skills, family care issues and health challenges.

Because of a growing skills mismatch, many sectors lack a ready supply of talented workers to fill millions of job openings. Employers are clamoring for trained workers, yet the demand greatly outweighs the supply. Connecting individuals to community colleges and training programs is a sustainable and effective way to address the skills mismatch and support workers to upskill, ready for the jobs at hand. A guide from San Diego Workforce Partners addresses the need to rethink how we invest, measure and support worker success — offering actions workforce practitioners can take today to get the ball rolling.

Even as the pandemic transitions to the rear-view mirror, families continue to be stretched thin, sidelined by a lack of care for young children, aging parents and family members requiring medical attention. For companies with expanded and more flexible leave programs, both employees and employers have seen success in keeping good hires.

And with health and disability challenges in the forefront during the pandemic, it’s important to note that 1 in 5 prime-age working individuals (ages 25 and 54), reported a disability. Ensuring that the work environment supports these individuals — by rethinking policies and systems to be more accessible and inclusive to all — is crucial to alleviating these barriers.

Key Fact: According to the National Skills Coalition, 52% of job opportunities require skills training beyond a high school diploma — but don’t require a four-year degree. That said, just 43% of American workers have had the chance to receive the essential skills training needed to pursue these sought-after careers. This highlights the critical need to expand access to skills training to ensure that more people can take advantage of the in-demand job opportunities available.

Opportunity #2 — Supporting a more diverse workforce

As the United States becomes more demographically diverse, so do our workplaces. Diversity is essential because it reflects the rich variety of cultures, identities and perspectives that make up our society. It is a source of strength, resilience, creativity and innovation for all of us. That’s why we need to ensure that our workplaces are inclusive and equitable, where every employee feels valued and respected for their unique contributions. But how?

Research from Coqual, a nonprofit formed to address bias, shows that the importance of belonging has far-reaching benefits. This feeling of belonging is rooted in four elements:

  1. Being seen for your unique contributions
  2. Connecting with your coworkers
  3. Finding support in your daily work and career development
  4. Feeling proud of your organization’s values and purpose

Increasingly, individuals report that a company’s mission is important to their success and also contributes to a positive work environment. These elements provide a roadmap to adopt equity-oriented approaches that foster a culture of belonging and excitement for all individuals. Additionally, we can pursue building equitable recruitment practices and behaviors. Hiring managers are instrumental members of the recruitment team, playing a vital role in channeling talent into your organization — which means that it’s critical to train hiring managers on inclusive recruitment practices during the interview process to attract more diverse talent. Latesha Byrd, a 2022 LinkedIn Top Voice on Company Culture and CEO of Perfeqta, provided three tips for training hiring managers on inclusive interviewing practices.

First and foremost, train hiring managers to talk about difficult conversations such as allyship, anti-bias and inclusion. Second, ensure that the interviewers are asking all candidates similar questions to standardize the recruiting process to assess candidates fairly. And third, create scorecards that hone in on core skills, so the process is focused on value alignment rather than “culture fit.” Overall, ensuring an equitable recruitment process is one of the most important steps to a diverse workforce and  flourishing work environment.

Key Fact:  InsideTrack’s coaches are trained to understand and address the intersecting systemic barriers that workers from diverse backgrounds face in their education and career journeys, and to help them achieve their goals and aspirations.

Opportunity #3 — Essential skills are inand it's time to integrate them into your hiring process

With the rapid and ever-changing development of AI, it’s clear that the skills employers value most are changing. So in order for workforce development organizations to assist those looking for work, it's crucial that we help individuals learn essential skills such as creativity, critical thinking, relational skills, and emotional intelligence.

Over the past few decades, we have seen huge swaths of potential workers overlooked, typically due to requirements in job postings necessitating a bachelor’s degree, which employers often use as a substitute for other indicators of essential skill mastery. But this hiring practice excludes more than 80 million potential employees right from the start. While completing a four-year degree is clearly a viable pathway for many, programs with short-term credentials and certifications are becoming bridges to employment for many more.

The key is finding prospective employees with the right mix of soft skills — also known as essential or employability skills — that can prove to be extremely valuable in today’s market. These essential skills include everything from time management, motivation, communication, and leadership skills to reliability, adaptability, and resilience—as well as being able to follow directions and work on a team. The Dallas College Marketable Skills initiative, for example, provides a student-centric approach to employability and living wage opportunities in the Dallas area. Skills from the school’s core curriculum are matched with the employability skills companies are looking for, working to close the “skills awareness gap” with specific, marketable skills.

Knowing just how much essential skills can predict employee fit and success within a company is a clear factor in the growing trend away from hiring solely based on education. In fact, according to Rand Ghayad, Head of Economics and Global Labor Markets at LinkedIn, moving towards skills-based hiring is five times more predictive of job performance.

Utilizing a skills-based approach is not only more effective at choosing the best candidates, but it also increases the talent pool with more diverse representation in the workforce. Ghayad also notes that, “If companies hire for skills versus traditional experience, the talent pool of women will increase by 24% more than men globally in jobs where women are underrepresented.”

Opportunity #4 — Tech bubble burst provides the chance for others to hire top tech talent

During the pandemic, tech companies were hiring top talent at an astounding rate. By September of 2022, Amazon and Meta’s corporate staff had roughly doubled, beginning with a sharp increase in March of 2020. In addition, companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce and Twitter increased their tech workforce dramatically because of the instant rise in demand for online services. However, as the pandemic eased and in-person activities like attending school, going to work, dining out and watching movies on the big screen began to resume, tech company leaders realized they had greatly overstaffed.

Adding to the problem, technological advances have allowed companies to use AI to write code. And inflation over the past year has caused venture capital to dry up, causing many smaller tech companies to close their doors. Through a combination of  higher interest rates, inflation and fears of recession, the profits and share price of these tech companies took a hit. In order to boost profits, tech CEOs had to make the difficult decision to let huge numbers of their employees go — many who were hired at the beginning of the pandemic. Microsoft and Google laid off more than 10,000 employees each. Many other tech companies, including Meta and Twitter, followed suit.

Meanwhile, organizations and companies outside of the tech bubble, ranging from nonprofits to news media and beyond, have struggled in the past to attract or retain employees with strong technical backgrounds due to the promise in the tech industry. Layoffs in tech provide a unique opportunity for non-tech companies to attract top tier talent and share this wealth of coveted knowledge. Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of consulting and training firm DAE (Disaster Avoidance Experts, LLC) suggests that, “Non-tech companies that offer hybrid and remote work options have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent.” Not only will moving to a hybrid or remote work model pull in tech talent, it can increase productivity as well as employee satisfaction which can increase the longevity of their employment.

Companies and nonprofits that boast a positive company culture as well as opportunities for career growth provide another substantial edge. Zooming out, the tech bubble grants these non-tech companies an immense opening to redistribute this tech talent to new sectors and reap the benefits.

Opportunity #5 — Bridging the skills gap in the wake of the opioid crisis

The opioid crisis is wreaking havoc on individuals, families and  communities across the country and has forced us to reevaluate how workforce systems can pivot to support and employ individuals directly or indirectly impacted by the epidemic.

This intergenerational crisis requires a skills-based, human-centered and trauma-informed approach to alleviate the destruction it has caused families, businesses and communities. Two groups in particular require specialized support. First, the generation that suffered the most from the opioid crisis needs support in recovery and finding meaningful employment, as the workplace has an immense impact on individuals with substance abuse disorders. In a study by the Massachusetts Health and Policy Forum, they found that employees with limited access to paid sick leave may rely on opioids after an occupational injury in order to manage pain and continue working, making them more vulnerable.

And second, Gen Z individuals who grew up with parents impacted by the opioid crisis may need support developing critical social capital in order to gain meaningful employment. These young people often find themselves missing key employability skills and may need help with career discovery and career readiness. Connecting these individuals to education and training, work-based learning or apprenticeship pathways can provide them with affordable, accessible, and relevant education and training programs that match their interests and goals, and prepare them for the workforce.

One promising initiative in this space, the Recovery Friendly Workplace Initiative (RFWI), is focused on empowering workplaces to provide support for people recovering from opioid addiction. In New Hampshire, where the RFWI was created, a New Futures study found that untreated addiction can cost $2.36 billion each year — with 66% of this cost incurred by businesses in the form of impaired productivity and absenteeism. Combining treatment support with steady employment is a win for individuals, employers and the community.

Key Fact: According to a study from The Brookings Institute, employees with an Opioid Use Disorder (OUD) who receive support from their employer to pursue care are more likely to exhibit lower rates of recurrence, higher rates of abstinence, fewer parole violations, and improvements to their overall quality of life.

Opportunity #6 — Community colleges + employers = a winning combo for non-degree and CTE pathways

As a way to uplift Career and Technical (CTE) pathways, both for non-degree credentials and degree programs, connecting community college programs with employers in innovative ways has shown great potential to fill the skills gap. By creating strong partnerships between community colleges and employers, students can more easily access CTE pathways that offer a combination of industry-recognized certifications and associate degree programs.

Historically, CTE was unfairly perceived as a “dumping ground” for students who were not deemed college-bound, perpetuating a flawed belief that a bachelor’s degree was the only path to high-status, higher-earning careers. However, as the landscape of the job market has evolved, employers are realizing that skills-based hiring is often more effective than degree-based hiring.

This shift in perspective acknowledges that CTE pathways provide valuable skills and competencies that are directly applicable to industry needs, and that success can be achieved through alternative educational routes. This integrated approach not only equips students with practical skills and credentials that align with current workforce demands, it also provides a seamless transition into higher-level education and career pathways, making it an attractive option for those seeking both immediate employability and long-term career advancement. By bridging the gap between non-degree certifications and degree pathways, community colleges play a pivotal role in revitalizing enrollment and empowering students to thrive in a rapidly evolving job market.

In a recent report from the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL), researchers interviewed representatives from 10 community colleges that grant non-degree credentials characterized by speed, value and economic mobility. Known as SVEs, these high quality credentials can be completed in a year or less, can be stacked with degree programs, and lead to good paying jobs in high-demand fields — making them a viable alternative to a four-year college degree.

Key Fact: With their emphasis on skill-building, local partnerships and accessibility, community colleges serve as valuable partners in connecting individuals with employment opportunities. Their diverse range of programs and vocational training options provide individuals with the necessary skills and credentials to enter the workforce, while their close ties with local employers enhance job prospects and ensure alignment with regional market demands.

Opportunity #7— Breaking barriers for workers with intellectual disabilities

Individuals with intellectual disabilities possess an incredible number of skills as well as the potential to enrich workplaces that foster inclusive environments. These individuals have incredible problem-solving skills and resilience, and can greatly contribute to diverse and thriving workplaces. Ensuring a diverse workforce provides for a culture of empathy and understanding. However, people with intellectual disabilities still encounter stigmas and discriminatory practices that limit their opportunities for meaningful employment.

One way to foster inclusion and accessibility for these individuals is to provide them with support and services that can help them develop their skills and connect them with employers who value their contributions. One organization, ARC, the largest national community-based organization advocating for this community and serving them and their families, provides various programs that work with employers to create inclusive workplaces and provide customized recruitment, training and retention services.

By fostering inclusion and accessibility for these individuals, our employers help the entire workforce to rise — bringing diversity to their talent pipeline, and increasing individual income levels, community inclusion, and social and economic value for society.

Key Fact: According to the Think College annual report, 73% of graduates who completed a Transition and Postsecondary Programs for Students with Intellectual Disabilities (TPSID) program in 2020-2021 were in paid employment one year after graduation. The TPSID program provides grants to higher education institutions to enable them to create or expand high quality, inclusive-model comprehensive transition and postsecondary programs for students with intellectual disabilities.

Opportunity #8 — Elevating the worker voice creates a win-win strategy for policy and program design

By actively listening to your workers — about their experiences, their needs, their aspirations and their challenges — workforce development professionals can create more responsive and effective programs and policies that support workers in achieving their education and career goals.

One organization that exemplifies this trend is Roadtrip Nation, a nonprofit that chronicles the self-discovery journeys of people as they travel the country, interviewing inspiring leaders from all walks of life who have built livelihoods around what they love to do. Roadtrip Nation empowers workers to explore their passions to coincide with their values, and to share their stories with others who can benefit from their insights. By elevating the worker voice into policy discussions and program design, Roadtrip Nation helps workers find their road in life and inspires others to do the same.

Opportunity #9 — Social capital provides a key to meaningful employment

Countless young adults live in communities where they haven’t seen hard work pay off. They have watched their parents working multiple jobs to support them, without the payoff of economic stability due to a broken system and unclear pathways to opportunity. These young people need exposure and accessibility to a diversity of career pathways that can help them achieve their education and employment goals. They also need social capital — the resources that arise from a web of relationships — which would provide access to support that would help them improve their lives and achieve their goals.

In a study published by Workforce of the Future at the Brookings Institution, authors found that  “Workers in the lowest wage quintile ($10–$15 an hour) have the highest likelihood of remaining in low-wage work when they make job transitions.” The study goes on to say that when they do change jobs, workers who average between $10-$15 typically move laterally or downward. These are serious mobility challenges. But where there are challenges, there are opportunities.

According to Search Institute, an organization that provides practical solutions to help youth succeed, social capital is crucial for young people’s success. Their research shows that participants who had higher levels of social capital and a more diverse network reported greater progress toward their education and employment goals, and a more resilient belief in themselves.

One way to develop social capital is through coaching, which can help young people build relationship skills, prepare for interactions with someone in a position of power that can help them, connect with available resources, and explore different career paths. InsideTrack provides coaching programs that bring structure to help individuals accomplish their own goals. As a learning partner for Search Institute’s research and evaluation study on measuring social capital, InsideTrack coaching techniques are evaluated for their efficacy in social capital development. Youth participants highlighted that their coach was particularly important in providing support and expanding their possibilities. Relationship-rich climates help youth not only with social capital development, but also with network strength and diversity.

Opportunity #10 — Embracing healing-centered pathways to support local communities

Individuals from all backgrounds face unique challenges that can obstruct their pathways into the workforce. So it’s important to provide ways to overcome these barriers to ensure that these would-be workers feel supported on their professional journey. Embracing healing-centered engagement can alleviate many of the barriers and trauma these individuals face. These kinds of programs address trauma by focusing on the whole person and understanding their context. It helps those who have experienced trauma to access resources, support, and opportunities that can foster their healing and growth. This approach is valuable not just for the beneficiaries, but for employers and the community at large.

One population in California that faces unique challenges has seen incredible success through funding that helps to fuel healing-centered approaches pursued by non-profit organizations. Transitioning Gang-Involved Youth to Higher Education Program (TGIY) aims to support gang-involved youth in pursuing higher education or CTE opportunities. For the more than 1 million youth in California involved in gangs, this grant “provides a funding opportunity for organizations that work directly with gang-involved youth to help pursue higher education opportunities that will lead to certification or credentials.” The grant money can be used for organizations to provide essential wraparound services that include culturally competent social and emotional support systems. TGIY research shows that gang-involved youth who earn a GED are twice as likely to attend college compared to their non-gang-affiliated peers. This holistic approach to addressing unique barriers faced by these individuals shows how valuable they are to local communities.

And Employ Prince George’s, an industry leading nonprofit workforce development organization in Maryland, has partnered with InsideTrack to embed trauma-informed and healing centered coaching strategies in their community by training members of their American Job Center Community Network. This community-based approach helps deliver on the promise of integrated service that contributes to equitable access to opportunity.

We hope you enjoyed reading our in-depth look at 2023 workforce opportunities and trends. By staying informed and engaged with the latest trends and practices, you can continue to make a positive difference in the lives of the people and communities you serve. If you’d like to see how these trends evolve and get more workforce insights delivered right to your email box, be sure and sign up for The InsideTrack Advancer, our monthly newsletter.

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