Jim Gibbons

Hope Street Group Network Interview with Jim Gibbons, President and CEO of Goodwill Industries International

JimGibbonsPhoto2010Through your job training and community services, Goodwill Industries International tackles the widespread issue of lack of economic opportunity, often partnering with other organizations to do so. How do you think coordination could be improved among the varied organizations attacking this issue from different angles?

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. We recognize that we cannot do it alone and partnering with both national and local organizations and businesses is essential to our success.

The key to successful partnerships that truly make differences in the lives of the people we serve begins through a series of communications, to establish clear consensus around the goals and expected outcomes of the collaboration. It is essential to obtain a commitment from each organization’s leadership to coordinate, contribute and leverage each other’s resources to drive our work towards the agreed upon outcomes.

Through the establishment of timelines, objectives and benchmarks, partners can build the foundation for the collaboration, with each organization designating point persons on their teams who will be accountable to the collaborative. Regularly scheduled leadership meetings provide an opportunity to review and refine outcomes as well as progress being made.

Goodwill Industries International was one of the first organizations chosen by Walmart for their $100 million Opportunity Initiative, focused on increasing economic mobility for retail workers. Can you speak to the potential impact of this sort of commitment from such a major player in the retail community?

We have always been committed to the professional and personal development of our Goodwill team members working at our more than 3,000 retail and donated goods locations. We believe that working in our donated goods retail operations can be both the start of a great career in retail as well as a launching pad to other great careers. When a Goodwill employee decides to make his or her next career move away from Goodwill, we celebrate their new job opportunity and do all we can to prepare them for career success.

The investment from the Walmart Foundation is a direct contribution to our commitment to help individuals prepare for and move beyond entry level employment. Both for our own team members and those of our business partners, our Careers in Retail initiative enables us to customize training for incumbent workers, based on what their employers tell us are their skill and competency needs in 8 communities. Through this targeted and very individualized training initiative, we are removing barriers to the next rung on career pathways inside retail operations.

According to the Census Bureau’s 2012 Current Population Survey, nearly 50 percent of workers in retail trades over age 25 have a high school diploma or less. Though equally represented in the retail sector, women and minorities are under-represented in higher-wage retail positions. In order to move into middle skill jobs within the retail industry, most of these current retail workers, as well as new entrants, need skills and competencies that are acquired with training and education beyond high school but less than a four-year degree. Without the ability to demonstrate mid-level competencies required by retail sector employers, these individuals have limited opportunities to contribute more fully at work and earn advancement opportunities. Career pathways that describe in-demand competencies, skills and work experience for specific positions provide actionable information for job seekers. The 50 percent of retail workers without post-secondary credentials, which equates to approximately 7.5 million workers, and the new workers who join the industry every day can benefit from intentional strategies that facilitate competency development, skills attainment and career advancement.

Because Goodwill is a large employer, with more than 125,000 team members working in communities across the U.S. and Canada, we can incorporate what we learn into our operations by sharing the knowledge and effective practices with all of our 165 member organizations. Based on what we are learning internally and with our business partners at our eight Careers in Retail locations, we can disseminate and replicate career advancement supports through our engagement with business partners throughout the country.

Goodwill Industries International goes beyond providing material resources for individuals, your organization has since grown to providing job training and placement services in the retail sector and beyond. In addition to the potential for an individual’s increase in economic prosperity/opportunity, how does the improvement of individuals’ circumstances in the retail sector benefit larger communities and our economy at large?

Many workers do not have the skills or experience to meet job requirements of the emerging economy. Inadequate talent pools, an increasing need for specialized skills, and significant shifts in workforce demographics are leaving positions unfilled and people without opportunities to work. Education, economic and workforce development systems must be transformed to convene regionally customized solutions. The way we think about jobs and preparing people for careers must change.

The Goodwill approach to workforce development focuses on the intersection of a local economy’s needs for a competitive workforce and the skill needs of individuals participating in that economy. Goodwill workforce development services support individuals’ career navigation, equipping them with occupational, financial and life skills. Through this strategy, Goodwill is a key influencer and partner in the evolution of workforce and economic development.

Through the skills attainment, the power of work and financial wellness training, individuals can earn family sustaining wages that reduces the need for public supports, predatory lending and other unproductive drains on earned income. Stable employment increases consumer spending due to additional discretionary income and increases the potential for savings that contribute to car and home ownership and college attendance for children. The ability for families to live in more stable neighborhoods in which to raise children and increased family, home and neighborhood stability can contribute to better outcomes for the children of families earning middle skill wages. This can be the intervention that disrupts generational poverty and lays the foundation for children to have access to better education and employment outcomes than their parents – which is at the core of the American Dream.

Expanding economic opportunity is a multi-pronged issue, and success is reliant on the involvement of multiple stakeholders, including those in other sectors such as health and education. How would you like to see these different groups work across their silos to make meaningful change?

When implementation of workforce and economic development strategies are disconnected, a community’s ability to achieve economic recovery is impaired, and workers’ ability to provide for their families is impeded. A workforce development system that does not respond to community needs will be ineffective at best and extremely wasteful at worst. Unfortunately, as evidenced by current economic conditions, this disconnection is present in too many communities. Collaborating with national and community based organizations to address all of the barriers that prevent an individual to become employed to the best of their ability is the framework for meaningful change for the individual and our communities.

Wrap-around services are essential to establish and maintain stability and support engagement in advancement opportunities. Goodwill affiliates partner with many different types of organizations to connect individuals with the services that they need to be successful. These include:

  • Banks and credit unions to build financial wellness skills.
  • Community Colleges to bring opportunities to earn industry valued credentials and degrees
  • Affordable preventive health reduces absences by employees and contributes to good education outcomes for children.

There are many examples of how partnerships and collaborations make meaningful change for an individual.

Kala
Kala came to Goodwill Industries – Suncoast (St. Petersburg, FL) while going through a divorce. The mother of two young children, who had dropped out of high school, did not have much confidence and felt like her world was crumbling. The dedicated staff provided her with much needed encouragement, and Kala began to build herself back up.

With a new sense of purpose, Kala registered to take her general educational development (GED) exam and passed it with flying colors. The Goodwill then sent Kala to one of its participating worksite employers that was looking for a part-time receptionist. Kala interviewed and was hired on the spot.

Filled with confidence, Kala decided to explore the medical field, a longtime dream of hers. She applied at Southeastern College and started the ultrasound program in June 2013.

Kala has been a star student, earning straight A’s, and received a promotion at work to customer sales representative, with the potential to make much more money. She beams every time she visits the Goodwill, and her confidence continues to grow. She is on her way to building a successful career and caring for her family, with help from Goodwill.

Sheila
Sheila is 45 years old, was born in Haiti and has lived in New York City for 30 years. She is married and has two children, ages 6 and 13. She holds a master’s degree in education and has an extensive background in teaching and childcare but was let go when her last position was eliminated. Her husband was a police officer but found himself in arbitration and fighting for his job due to infractions encountered on a past assignment. The couple found themselves unemployed at the same time and struggled to survive and find jobs.

Sheila applied for public assistance and enrolled in Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey’s (Astoria, NY) Back 2 Work program. Soon after, she enrolled in Beyond Jobs (career services for women, supported by the Walmart Foundation) in March 2013. She worked with the Goodwill to establish career and financial plans and commit to working toward her goals.

The Goodwill helped Shelia and her family with needs outside of finding a job as well. She met with the on-site health care insurance representative who connected her family with pre- and post-employment health insurance coverage. She also received a referral to Dress for Success to get professional clothing and the East River Development Alliance for financial counseling and credit repair advice.

Throughout this time, Sheila continued her job search for a position as a teacher, coach or case worker and remained focused on her employment goals. She received an interview and offer for a teaching position, which she accepted and began immediately.

After 30 days of employment, Sheila was excited to be back on her feet and on the path to self-sufficiency. She completed her financial counseling and developed a realistic budget, which includes saving money monthly to build up an emergency fund.

Kala and Sheila are great examples of the impact on an individual when organizations come together to provide a full range of services that address the needs of an individual or community. To maximize impact, organizations will need to make the commitment to leverage each other’s unique resources and services, to create a seamless system of support for workers and their families in communities everywhere.

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