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It’s Time to Address America’s Skill Gap & How to Overcome it

By September 9, 2021

Jobs have, understandably, been an especially hot topic over the last year and a half. For much of 2020, the lack of jobs — and the skyrocketing unemployment that resulted — made headlines. Since vaccines became readily available in the spring, the conversation has shifted to the glut of job openings and the various reasons why some people still remain out of the workforce.

The problem, as with the others that we’ve covered in episodes #1 and #2 of the Force Multiplier podcast, is nuanced and multi-faceted. Hesitancy to work in customer-facing jobs during a global pandemic, homeschooling children who are still learning virtually, and the unequal burden that falls on women to keep a household functioning when seemingly nothing else is, are all good explanations for why many aren’t returning to work. But one reason that isn’t talked about, debated, and headlined like the others is workforce development.

There are 32 million Americans who don’t know how to use a computer, and half of all Americans aren’t comfortable learning online. In an increasingly digital world, this is a big problem. How do we ensure that a skills gap that’s widening by the year — especially in the wake of a global pandemic — isn’t leaving millions of people behind? Workers may be in high demand, but for many of those jobs the right skills are often in short supply. A thriving workforce that includes the most vulnerable requires that we better align the educational resources available to workers with the skills businesses actually need.

In episode three of the Force Multiplier podcast, Baratunde Thurston talks with Onney Crawley, chief marketing officer at Goodwill Industries, and Sue Ellspermann, president of Ivy Tech Community College — two innovative leaders who are closing the opportunity gap by flipping the old model on its head with more targeted educational opportunities that match the evolving needs of a rapidly-changing employment landscape.

Man teaching group of people how to work a machine
In 2020, Goodwill placed more than 126,000 people in jobs and is now ramping up its goal of helping more than 1 million people find sustainable careers by 2025.

Goodwill is Helping Employ Over 1 Million People Post-Pandemic

One of the best known brands in the country, Goodwill Industries has diverted more than 4 billion pounds of usable goods from landfills through its 3,300 stores across the U.S. Goodwill has a 94% brand awareness — but not everyone is aware of the efforts the company is taking toward workforce development.

In 2020, Goodwill placed more than 126,000 people in jobs and is now ramping up its goal of helping more than 1 million people find sustainable careers by 2025. This is happening through the Rising Together coalition, which Goodwill launched in May 2021 with Fortune 50 companies. “At the most fundamental level, it’s a commitment by the goodwill brand to help America get back on its way to economic recovery,” Crawley said during episode three of the Force Multiplier podcast.

She also confirmed that, “The nationwide pandemic-related job loss has disproportionately affected people of color, women, and those without higher degrees. And we knew that to recover with an inclusive economic infrastructure that gives everyone equitable opportunity, we needed something that was going to provide the right support in the right place at the right time.”

In August, CEO Rob Acker talked with Crawley about how technology comes into play. “Every aspect of our work will require technology advancement in order to be successful and sustain long-term,” she said. “Being able to leverage the combined platforms that Salesforce has to help people better understand what Goodwill does is critical for setting us up for success and driving brand relevance. I don’t see any area of our business that can be successful without the implementation of technology.”

In her conversation with Force Multiplier podcast host Baratunde Thurston, she expanded on Goodwill’s vision for workforce development. “It’s this brand that’s an ongoing support of individual growth and evolution,” she says. “Maybe you’re moving or redesigning your home and we give you a place to shed all the things you don’t want anymore. You shop our stores, and that’s enabling your personal self-expression. You utilize our skills training and job support services to advance your career or find a new career. What we’ve learned is that people are always evolving and we want to be able to be that support to enable the evolution that they’re looking for.”

Goodwill, says Crawley, is a force multiplier in action. “We’re all watching the news,” she says of the pandemic’s effect on workforce development. “We’re seeing all the headlines, but we’re trying to create action more than just discussion.The Rising Together coalition puts more of a spotlight on the work and it also keeps everyone accountable.”

Ivy Tech Serves 150,000 Students With Salesforce Technology

With more than 40 locations, Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana’s largest public post-secondary institution. The vast Ivy Tech network, which is the country’s biggest singly accredited statewide community college system, is a cornerstone for Indiana’s workforce development. Ivy Tech serves as a model for dynamic workforce development programs by offering affordable degree programs and training that are aligned with the needs of its community.

Ivy Tech proves that community colleges nationwide are an important force multiplier in workforce development, due in part to the fact that they train traditional and nontraditional students to find jobs with an affordable degree. But as Ellspermann explained in episode three of the Force Multiplier podcast, there’s still a critical gap.

“The majority of our students, almost 75 percent, are part-time working adults,” says Ellspermann. “Many are low-income students of color, first generation, and they come to us with the hope that they can succeed. And so closing the opportunity gap and ensuring equitable access to education is top priority, I can say, for all community colleges, but certainly for Ivy Tech Community College.”

Two women sitting at a table talking
Community colleges nationwide are an important force multiplier in workforce development, thanks to the fact they train traditional and nontraditional students to find jobs with an affordable degree.

According to Ellspermann, community colleges are the most affordable higher education institution in the country. Ivy Tech charges just $450 for a course and $4,000 per year to be a full-time student. Still, students are strapped. “Most of them are on some kind of federal financial aid, but they’re also independent students trying to take care of families,” says Ellspermann, who has been working on how to include the cost of books and course materials into tuition. This year, Ivy Tech accomplished this goal, thanks to the “Learn Anywhere” modality. With the help of Salesforce technology, Ivy Tech has set a goal of 50,000 associate degrees, certificates, and high-quality certifications by 2025.

“We are using the best technology tools we can to offer online training, to provide the best lab settings, to enable our students to get the best experience,” says Ellspermann, adding how the community college has partnered with every sector of industry — from banking and marketing to the Indiana Department of Corrections. “We want to put more community in community college. We want to be integral to every community in which we serve. Clearly, when we think about force multipliers, it is in our partnering…Together, we discover ever better ways of serving one another.

Listen to episode #3 of the Force Multiplier podcast. Did you miss our recap of episodes #1 and #2? Read the recap of episode #1 about nutrition insecurity, and episode #2 about health equity.