The Future of Work

future of work

More and more people are trying to better understand the future of work and why the U.S. has more open jobs – more than 6 million – than at any time in our history. In September, former VP Joe Biden hosted an event Choosing a Future of Quality Jobs, in order to discuss the opportunities and challenges posed by transformations in the U.S. economy and how quality jobs can be created to support a growing middle class.

At this event, Jim Murren, the Chairman of MGM Resorts International, discussed the hiring efforts that his firm undertook at MGM Resorts National Harbor. SkillSmart was honored to partner with MGM Resorts National Harbor to help the company focus on local hiring, reach out to vocational schools and local community colleges, and deliver a system that could quickly identify skilled talent and match them to the right positions. Applicants for a variety of jobs at the property could go online and identify the kinds of job that interested them, as well as their skills.

“They could immediately find the gaps that they have, certifications they need to get, training they needed to be provided, and we helped them get that,” Murren said. “Companies that say they can’t find qualified workers, they’re not trying hard enough.”

It’s great that these efforts and the SkillSmart platform were highlighted in such a significant forum, and as more and more organizations are recognizing that they can take a new approach to building a skilled workforce and increase economic opportunity for both employees and themselves. We’re committed to this goal and to helping people and organizations make it a reality.

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Make It In America

coffee shop

Over the past weeks, we have seen Made in America Week, Infrastructure Week, and the Democrats’ Deal for the American Worker. There seems to be agreement that many Americans are trapped in jobs that don’t pay desirable wages while other, higher-earning jobs remain unfilled and that developing skills and training for jobs for the future is critically important. But the “how” is just as important.

As companies continue to invest in America, we still are seeing a shortage of skilled workers – and this holds everyone back, no matter which side of the aisle you’re on.

We at SkillSmart are focused on the “how.” How do employers more effectively identify the skilled workers they need? How do job seekers better convey that they have skills and that they are more than just a resume? How do we develop education programs that deliver in-demand skills?

Watch the recent TEDx talk to hear more.

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Redirecting Our Approach to Workforce Development to Ensure Workforce Success

workforce training

The President has been highlighting infrastructure and workforce development this week, which is exactly what we’ve been working on at SkillSmart for the past two years. For us this is not a theoretical exercise – we’re working with partners to construct real projects, hire real people and grow local economies. I wanted to share some observations from the communities in which we’ve been working.

Earlier this week, I listened from the back of a Detroit community room as city representatives and local developers gave updates to citizens on local projects. Wherever we travel, we try to find ways to connect with the local community, and I was fortunate to get word of this briefing where citizens heard updates on development projects, asked questions, and voiced concerns. Most of the meeting consisted of general city updates and questions about noise, cost, access, and benefits; but, the drama of one exchange made me perk up and put down my plate of chicken schwarma.

First, a bit of background, Detroit developers that engage in projects beyond a certain contract threshold are required to hire 51% of their workforce from Detroit. If they fail to meet this requirement they are assessed a substantial penalty. Well, one citizen didn’t think that the fact that developers were simply paying a penalty was sufficient.

She stood to voice her frustration that the developers that weren’t meeting the 51% requirement weren’t fulfilling their responsibility. Immediately, the developer’s representative responded that building the workforce wasn’t their responsibility. The exchange escalated from there – as the citizen couldn’t believe that the developer didn’t think it their responsibility to hire locally, particularly given the requirement.

To conclude the heated exchange, the developer clarified, that it was their responsibility to hire Detroiters, it just wasn’t their responsibility to ensure Detroiters had the skills to get hired.

The developer – and the citizen – was right. And wrong.

This conversation is representative of hundreds of conversations that are taking place all across America.

There is a lot of talk about the job market, and recently much more talk about infrastructure, but there is far too little conversation regarding the workforce and how to ensure workers actually have the right skills to be qualified today and successful tomorrow.

Late last year I gave a TEDx talk that put a spotlight on our broken talent development system. I argued that it’s broken because everyone points the finger at someone else.

Businesses, for the large part, expect the education system to deliver them a well-trained individual who’s able to step right into the job without any training or assistance from industry. You will be hard pressed to find a traditional four-year institution that considers preparing students for work as part of its mission. Somehow, the fact that 85% of students say that they went to college to get a job has been overlooked by our traditional four-year schools. We also face the dilemma of our society’s unfounded negative stigmas toward other, more blue-collar pathways such as community college, vocational training, and technical schools – even if they lead to good paying jobs.

And, we can’t overlook those job seekers who simply want to know where to get better information about what jobs require, how well qualified they are for those jobs, and where they can go if they need additional skills to be qualified. The current system is a black box that leaves everyone blaming others – just like what happened at the Detroit community meeting.

The only way this problem will actually be addressed is for all stakeholders to recognize the seriousness of the situation and their role in solving it. Simply, employers are the final consumers of the workforce, and must provide clarity around which skills and experiences are valued for a particular position.

Imagine how much more effective the job application process would if a person could see exactly which skills and experiences were necessary. Both the employer and job seeker could focus on the formal and informal experiences that demonstrate the qualifications for the position.

This would move the system away from the many substitutes used now like labels and assumptions from previously held jobs or schools attended – which are often not relevant to the job at hand.

The developer wasn’t wrong in saying that it wasn’t solely their responsibility to develop the local workforce. Nor was the citizen wrong to expect business to play a role in developing the workforce. We must recognize that it’s everyone’s responsibility and we all have a stake.

At SkillSmart, we’re implementing solutions to help the stakeholders work together to ensure local communities have the tools to thrive economically. In Springfield, Massachusetts we’re working with MGM Resorts to connect with local government, community colleges and businesses to skill-up and hire 3500 employees for a new hotel and casino. In Wisconsin, our work with the Milwaukee Bucks has started a broader conversation around how capital projects can stimulate workforce development activities and how a city can do more to align workforce development initiatives. In Washington DC, we’re helping the general contractor of the nation’s largest transit project communicate their hiring needs to the community, link job seekers to local training, and build a pipeline of qualified local employees.

Though the dynamics of every city are different, in everywhere we travel it is common to hear “at the end of the day it’s all about jobs.” We would argue, at the end of the day, it’s all about workforce. And if we are serious about making sure locals have the skills demanded by industry, building the on ramps to opportunity, and truly creating access, then the business, education, and social sector must realize the important role each must play in preparing the workforce of tomorrow today.

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Growing the Economy and Workforce by Investing in People



Springfield, Massachusetts has become ground zero for demonstrating a new demand-driven approach to grow its economy and workforce. And the city’s efforts are being recognized and encouraged.

Last month, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Corporation, located in Springfield, MA, was awarded a “Working Cities Grant” by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. As one of eight jurisdictions throughout the Commonwealth to receive the grant, it will use this funding to connect local job seekers to multiple industry sectors in the area based on their skills.

One industry that will impact the community is hospitality. Today, MGM Resorts International, which will open a world-class hotel and gaming facility in Springfield, MA in the Fall of 2018, announced a new culinary training partnership with Holyoke Community College. MGM Resorts is committed to investing in the local workforce through this new gaming school designed to advance the skills of the community.

To identify talent and prepare for proper staffing, MGM has started posting the future opportunities needed for its new facility. Further, they’re outlining what requirements are needed, including the skills and credentials, for each opportunity so the local workforce has a clear understanding of what will be needed to be hired in 2018, and how to acquire the right skills if they don’t possess them today.

To start, students and job seekers interested in culinary jobs can log onto SkillSmart for MGM Springfield today to see what jobs will be available. From there, they can then take advantage of programs like the training partnership between Holyoke Community College and MGM. Between now and the facility’s opening, potential candidates will have time to train and gain valuable experience that will advance their skill sets and strengthen the region’s hospitality industry.

Springfield recognized that it can grow a stronger community when it understands the need of local industry and how those needs align with educational opportunities to create a more qualified and skilled workforce.

Employers like MGM are working with all stakeholders in the community – local education providers, community-based organizations, local businesses, students and job seekers – to make each stronger when working individually and together in building the local workforce.

By using SkillSmart’s platform, MGM has identified the skills needed for each position it will seek to hire. Job seekers then can build an individual profile to see how their skills match the positions they’re interested in.

This profile highlights the skills they need, providing a link to training opportunities offered by local education providers and community-based organizations. By connecting the job seekers to both the employer and education providers, they better understand the skills they need and see the path to acquire those additional skills to make them more competitive for these opportunities.

By better understanding the skills and hiring requirements of local employers like MGM, it’s easier for residents of the community to identify the skills they need to be hired. This also gives local education partners, like Holyoke Community College, the ability to adapt curriculum to meet these requirements, which makes the education process more efficient and cost-effective.

By connecting all the stakeholders – employers, educators and job seekers – each works more effectively to grow the local economy, make the right investments in people, and cause the community in whole to be more successful.

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Black and Gold Graduation

How to Connect Youth to Opportunity—And Give Them Real Skills, Too


via 1776 Insights

We’re in the midst of high school graduation season. This undoubtedly means you’re inundated with stories about which college your colleague’s child will attend next fall or what great job opportunity has postponed college for now.

I hear a lot of stories about these graduates. However, I don’t hear much about the high school graduates who won’t go to college or immediately enter the workforce. I hear even fewer about those students who, for one reason or another, won’t graduate at all. These students, out of school and the workplace – often called Opportunity Youth – deserve our attention and present both a social challenge and an economic opportunity.

The high number of Opportunity Youth—nearly 6.7 million—is one consequence of the Great Recession. Between 2008 and 2010, the economy shed nearly 8.4 million jobs. Although we’ve experienced steady job growth over the last five years, we’ve yet to see youth employment numbers rebound to pre-recession levels. Youth unemployment remains far above the national average. Young people today experience an unemployment rate far above the national average of 5.6 percent; teens aged 16-19 have an unemployment rate of almost 17 percent, and 20 to 24 year-olds have an unemployment rate of nearly 11 percent. This occurs partly because youth are often the least experienced in the workforce and partly because youth are increasingly ill equipped with the skills to navigate the workforce in the first place.

Read the Article »

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OPM Attack should put HR Managers on Notice

HR Managers alarmed by OPM attack

Technology has become so engrained and vital to our everyday lives, but with each new data breach, we’re reminded of the price we pay for its access and convenience.

The recent breach of federal government data at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) is a prime example of the breadth of the cyber threat. When we think of the federal government and the need for cybersecurity, we naturally think of National Security Agency (NSA), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), but not OPM. And, yet, with this breach sensitive information for nearly four million current and former federal workers from nearly every government agency has been exposed. This demonstrates the proliferation of cyber threats, both privately and publicly, and the need for more cyber personnel to respond to this growing threat.

Over the last few years, security breaches have become all too normal – inevitable even. In 2013, close to 20 major retailers and financial institutions were targeted, while the FBI reports almost300,000 cyber-crimes that same year. In total, these breaches caused more than $525 million in losses.

The solution has been to revisit internal safeguards, analyze where and how the breach happened, and create new ways to prevent it from happening again. This conversation approaches the prevention of cyber attacks by creating and adhering to best practices and tougher security protocols. What this conversation lacks, however, is commentary about the overwhelming imbalance of qualified individuals to address these threats. Quite simply, there aren’t enough people to create secure environments across both public and private sectors.

In the last few years, we’ve seen the need for cyber security talent skyrocket. In the DC Region alone there’s been a 35% increase in cyber security job postings with over 23,000 job openings in the region during 2013 and more than 200,000 positions nationally. Today, cyber security jobs make up 10% of all IT positions. The process of filling open positions has become unbearably lengthy, taking roughly 24% longer to fill than any other IT posting and 36% longer than job openings in other industries.  Far worse, however, is that nearly half of cyber professionals find it difficult to appropriately identify the skill level of candidates, especially in entry-level positions.

With such a shortage of qualified talent, one can see how it’s becoming increasingly difficult to detect and mitigate cyber threats. There’s a clear and urgent need for qualified and skilled cyber security workers. What if we could accelerate the number of viable candidates in the workforce, even if only at the entry level? This is the new conversation we should be having: how we can quickly and effectively prepare an eager workforce with the skills to meet the demands of both private and public sectors.

First, we need to realistically identify the skills needed by cyber security personnel to mitigate future breaches. By reworking tired job descriptions into actionable skills, employers can better articulate exactly what they’re looking for when they recruit and identify talent. The government has built important frameworks like National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) and National Initiative for Cybersecurity Careers and Studies (NICCS) to start this process, but we still need the engagement of employers to validate the skills required for cyber security jobs in order to make these frameworks the most effective.

Second, we need a mechanism that allows individuals to demonstrate and understand how the skills they’ve developed from their work and other life experiences may prepare them for the cyber industry. Once they know how their skills translate into cyber, they can identify areas of growth by comparing their skills to what’s actually needed, and clearly identifying which skills or certifications they’re lacking.

Third, we need to highlight where individuals can develop the particular skills they may be lacking. Cyber security professionals have stated with increasing clarity that they’re looking for individuals with the skills needed to perform specialized tasks, but are less concerned with whether those skills were acquired through traditional education. As such, the cyber field – in part because of the prevalence and value of certifications – accepts and supports many avenues into the field. Accordingly, we need to identify the specific skills that traditional or non-traditional programs provide, so students can pursue the programs that develop the skills they need for success.

These three components must work together to quickly create and capture talent and build a pipeline that helps both private and public sectors thrive in combatting cyber threats. SkillSmart was designed to evolve the way employers and individuals interact by connecting them through their shared skills. Applying this model to cyber security could be the powerful tool needed to secure our data.

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TechHire – Building Pathways to Employment


Young people benefiting from the TechHire initiativeLast month, at the National League of Cities, President Obama announced TechHire, a new public private partnership focused on building meaningful pathways to employment in information technology (IT).

The announcement is right on time. As America continues to add jobs at an unprecedented rate, we see jobs in IT fields like software development, network administration and cybersecurity, remaining vacant because employers are having difficulty identifying candidates with the appropriate skills to fill them. TechHire brings together employers, educators, job seekers and other relevant stakeholders, in more than 21 communities, to incent innovative regional approaches to training and hiring to create a qualified candidate pool to fill these positions.

SkillSmart applauds the President and the Administration for all of the incredible groundwork necessary to launch an ambitious program like TechHire. We are advocates for similar regional approaches to rapid skills development and have previously recognized the lack of such coordination in communities, as we’ve recently identified in Montgomery County as it plans for its economic future.

Of course, with any announcement like this, the real question is, “What comes next?” Will this spark new activity or be more of the status quo masked by a new name?

We think there are three main reasons to be optimistic. First, all relevant stakeholders are at the table. The TechHire initiative promotes important coordination between employers, trainers and community based-organizations. Second, the regional approach allows for local, cultural differences that can be lost and/or fatal in a blanket national program. This program will provide lift to programs currently underway including their regional particulars. Lastly, the Administration recognizes that many of these jobs may not require four-year degrees. Encouraging the development of rapid on ramps to employment is critical and may spark necessary competition amongst education providers to ensure cost-effective delivery of the skills employers need.

SkillSmart intends to be an active participant in shaping the outcome of TechHire by ensuring the cost-effective delivery of in-demand skills and helping empower Americans with pathways to IT jobs. Join us!

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