By Laura Roberts, Program Associate, The Rockefeller Foundation, and Lenée Richards, Communications Director, LeadersUp
In today’s globally connected economy, the fundamental ability to find the right person for the job remains a key indicator of business success. In September 2016, there were 5.5 million job openings in the United States; however, more than 3 million of those vacancies could not be filled due to a lack of qualified applicants. This challenge crosses all industry sectors, but is especially problematic for U.S. manufacturing, retail, food service, and transportation firms. At the same time, while human resource departments struggle to find and keep talent, more than 5.5 million opportunity youth, ages 16–24, are not working and not enrolled in school. This dilemma presents a clear need on the demand and supply side of workforce development to come up with innovative solutions to close the talent divide. Businesses need employees, and young adults need to find a path to employment. For companies in industries that consistently face high turnover, solving this challenge is critical and calls for rethinking their human capital management for the 21st century workforce. In order to stay competitive, companies need to innovate, diversify, educate, and train youth so they can realize their ambition to become the next generation of employees.
With a network of supporting partners, including The Rockefeller Foundation, LeadersUp is currently working with businesses in the Chicago metropolitan area to help fill critical entry-level and mid-skill level positions while also addressing youth unemployment and the national talent-divide challenge. The Rockefeller Foundation sees supporting this work as a critical component to advancing the concept of impact hiring, an innovative approach that enables employers to find better, more successful matches for entry-level positions by drawing on the opportunity youth talent pool. Impact hiring includes a set of three solution elements: recruitment, assessment, and support, which can be adapted and integrated into the human resources practices of a wide variety of companies. Small-scale employer-led pilots, like those led by LeadersUp, are often the first step before scaling toward this larger integration into company HR practices. This innovative approach to talent development allows the employer to be the end customer and encourages workforce development systems to become focused on the specific skills employers are seeking. At the core of LeadersUp pilots with employers is this understanding of backward-designing pipelines for the critical skills employers need now, and in the future.
Creating Best Practices with Employer-Led Pilots
Employers have control over the most powerfully effective driver currently in the marketplace: their ability, via in-house human resource departments, to provide jobs. It also places them in a prime position to influence how human talent and capital is directed; but they need a way to do this more efficiently. Our pilot program with LBP Manufacturing, a Chicago-based company that develops and manufactures paper-based on-the-go packaging products, is one of Starbucks largest suppliers. LBP Manufacturing is expanding to meet product demands and internal strategic workforce needs. At the LBP Manufacturing facility, located in a Chicago suburb, LeadersUp worked extensively with the entire human resources department and a special human resource innovator to develop a pilot to bridge the talent gap and create a sustainable pipeline of engaged young adults.
Sitting across a desk covered with stacks of manila folders, employee reviews, and product samples is Eia White. Innovator is not a self-proclaimed title, but as a human resources generalist, Eia is the point person for cultivating an effective and impactful talent pipeline, and for implementing new strategies to inform young adults about manufacturing jobs that incorporate the latest advances in robotics, big data, and machine learning. In Illinois, a state with a high youth unemployment rates, Eia offers clear pathways for opportunity youth, starting with LBP’s entry-level “packer” positions. She shared, “Our packer positions were constantly in high turnover. We knew that if we could develop solutions for keeping one of the hardest positions in our facility filled that it would strengthen our overall ability to find and retain talent.”
LeadersUp helped developed a strategy to address prevalent workforce challenges including: a lack of awareness among young adults of opportunities with LBP, assess the mismatch of skills between interested applicants and what is required of a new hire, clarify the understanding of potential growth trajectories within the company, and maintain an engaged workforce.
Many young adults have a misconception about manufacturing and are not attracted to the industry because of outdated notions about what a job in manufacturing looks like—Eia worked with LeadersUp to rebrand manufacturing to young adults through digital and strategic outreach. One key input is a site visit that allows young adults to tour the facility and ask questions about what it means to work at LBP Manufacturing. By seeing a modern manufacturing facility in action, many youth realized that a path to long-term employment was possible.
Over the course of 12 months, our pilot produced the following key learnings:
1. Increase Awareness of Opportunities: Many young adults are unaware of, or not prepared for, career pathways within the manufacturing industry. For employers to establish good talent aggregation practices, there must be intentional outreach around educating local communities on current and future job opportunities within their industries. Our solution was to debunk the belief that manufacturing is monotonous assembly line work, but instead actually requires technical mastery of machinery. This involved shining a light on the opportunities within LBP Manufacturing and rebranding the presentation to applicants. We developed digital outreach materials to resonate with young adults and sent a clear message of the potential this field has to offer. This was achieved by translating LBP’s core manufacturing values and brand through culturally competent designs on social media platforms where young adults interact.
2. Match Skills with Opportunity: With the support of the entire HR leadership team at LBP, we identified a package of core skills needed by viable candidates to be a ready for employment. This “skills over experience” approach strengthened LBP’s overall recruitment strategy and served as a compass for navigating young adults through LeadersUp’s specialized trainings—resulting in a candidate pool that was more prepared, excited about their job prospects, and knowledgeable about the manufacturing industry.
3. Career Pathways Can Improve Retention: Once positions were filled, the hardest challenge was keeping talent onboard. Exposure to a clear career pathway was needed to keep the young adults engaged. We worked with supervisors and managers to share the projected trajectory of growth with the young adults—so they would understand that their “packer” position was interconnected to the overall operations of the company, and was the starting point for growing a career within LBP. It also increased their likelihood to stay with the company.
Human Resources Evolves: Talent Management
Just as supply chain management promotes efficiency while simultaneously minimizing waste, employer-led human capital supply chain experiments have yielded promising results—and there is every reason to expect that they would do just as well on a larger scale. Employer-led pilots developed by LeadersUp can create long-term, provable, and measurable solutions to the talent pipeline crisis.
As the Rockefeller Foundation’s impact hiring framework suggests, businesses are discovering that human resources professionals do more than track vacation time for employees. Instead, HR departments have become perfect incubators for developing new forms of recruitment and retention models that are effective, sustainable, and achieve a return on investment for shareholders and the community. Through our employer-led pilot with LBP Manufacturing, Eia has helped the company in rebranding its appeal to young adults, hiring and onboarding new recruits, and ultimately contributing to nearly $83,000 in taxpayer burden savings and more than $10,000 in tax revenue for the state and federal government.
Impact hiring practices like these can be good for businesses, young people, and the communities in which we all live and work. By partnering with employers to pilot small-scale innovations in recruitment, assessment and support practices, organizations like LeadersUp are helping to build learning and evidence that will enable other companies to take action.
As one of the last competitive differentiators in the modern business model, new types of talent management practices like these are critical to achieving change at scale. The impact of adopting more effective and efficient mechanisms to sourcing and retaining employees will make all the difference in the quest to improving profits, lives, and communities—the ultimate win-win innovation for job seekers and American companies.