Milwaukee Bucks Retrain Jobless Workers to Build New Arena


First published by Dusty Weis, Association of Equipment Manufacturers

At the urging of local officials, contractors on the $524 million project have approached hiring challenges with bold, unconventional workforce development strategies that help people get needed job training. Equipment manufacturers that struggle to find skilled workers could replicate these successful workforce development program models by utilizing new recruiting software that links applicants to needed training, partnering with local governments, connecting with the community and utilizing regional job training services.  

From a distance, it looks like any other large-scale work site. Newly-placed steel girders arch overhead as hundreds of yellow-vested workers swarm over the NBA’s newest arena in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, still a year away from its completion in time for the 2018 basketball season.

But a closer look at the construction crews reveals a workforce made up of at least 40 percent Milwaukee residents who were, until recently, underemployed, jobless or even unskilled. These nontraditional work crews are gaining valuable on-the-job experience and providing for their families thanks to a partnership between the Bucks and the city of Milwaukee aimed at helping disadvantaged urban residents benefit from the city’s boom in downtown development.

In order to meet the city’s hiring requirements and qualify for public financing, Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry says the organization and its contractors have had to implement a creative workforce development strategy template, employing unconventional recruitment efforts and even finding ways to train underqualified workers. But he says the benefits of putting local people to work on the project go beyond good corporate citizenship, and he sees lessons that other employers, including equipment manufacturers, could apply to their own hiring efforts in urban areas.

“There are qualified workers out there, and there are people who want to work that are out there,” Lasry says. “I think what separates us really was the outreach and the dedication we’ve had to making sure this was a top priority of the project.”

Workforce Development Program Models that Break the Cycle

This untapped labor pool starts just a dozen blocks to the north of the new arena, where people are buzzing over a different development. In the city’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a small supermarket has opened in what was once a boarded-up pharmacy, providing residents with convenient access to fresh fruits and vegetables for the first time in years.

In its subtlety, the transformation taking place in this historically African-American neighborhood contrasts with the $524 million arena and massive high-rises going up in downtown Milwaukee. But, in a zip code where the median household income hovers around $30,000 and unemployment is over 15 percent, the slower, more gradual improvements are no less important.

For decades, this and other Milwaukee neighborhoods have been mired in a cycle of poverty, where finding a job requires skills and experience, but skills and experience come from holding down a job.

“That cycle, sometimes it’s not just the economics,” says Alderwoman Milele Coggs, Bronzeville’s representative on Milwaukee’s city council. “It’s mental, too, it’s emotional. Once you’ve been caught in that cycle, you start asking, how many more jobs am I going to apply for and get denied?”

So when negotiations began over the incentives the city would offer the Bucks to build their new arena in Milwaukee, Coggs and her colleagues in city government saw an opportunity to help break that cycle. In exchange for city financing assistance, the Bucks would have to employ at least 40 percent of their construction workforce from the city’s Residents Preference Program (RPP), which maintains a list of unemployed and underemployed city residents.

“If we’re putting taxpayer dollars into a project, it just makes sense that the taxpayers should benefit from that project,” Alderwoman Coggs says.

On a project that will employ thousands of people across several years, Lasry says meeting the city’s 40 percent RPP requirement while staying on-time and on-budget is no simple task. “There are only so many qualified, experienced workers,” he says. “But just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.”

To address the challenge, the team pledged $375,000 to workforce development and training efforts, and asked the city to make a matching pledge, launching a one-of-a-kind partnership.

“We weren’t going to BS around and hire people to just sweep floors or hold up a sign,” to meet the RPP goals, Lasry says.

Build-Your-Own Workforce

As the Bucks arena project was ramping up, another major addition to the Milwaukee skyline was winding down. At a price tag of $450 million, the new high-rise headquarters for the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company employed more than 40 percent of its construction workers through the RPP—many of whom then joined the ranks of the Bucks arena workforce.

“I think that’s great,” Alderwoman Coggs says. “The point is not just to have people temporarily hired, but to give them the skills to get hired on an ongoing basis. Northwestern Mutual went above and beyond to ensure that they would meet and exceed those numbers.”

But other developments were tapping into Milwaukee’s RPP well of workers too, and, in order to meet their quota, Lasry says the Bucks had to build their own workforce through training and recruitment. Their first innovation was to employ a new piece of online software called SkillSmart Seeker, which helps create a path to employment for unqualified workers who would typically receive an outright rejection.

Lasry says all job applicants can apply via SkillSmart Seeker, which charts their qualifications and certifications. In cases where applicants come up short, SkillSmart Seeker creates a list of steps they can take to qualify for a job and connects them with resources to complete those steps, including local jobs training agencies, technical colleges and apprenticeships.

“We’re not telling anyone no,” Lasry says, “we’re just telling them not yet.”

“So many people may not have the proper certification, but they’re willing to get it,” Alderwoman Coggs says. “If they know what they need to do, they could go get qualified for future opportunities.”

And there will be many such opportunities. In addition to the arena, the basketball team is building or plans to build a practice facility, a sports clinic, an entertainment block, apartment buildings, parking garages and more. With 10 years’ worth of ancillary development in the works, Lasry says it will be to the team’s advantage to grow the pool of qualified workers.

So, with SkillSmart Seeker as a conduit for training new workers, Lasry and his team set about getting more people into that pipeline. Instead of a traditional job fair at the team’s headquarters, they offered opportunities directly to people in their own neighborhoods, holding “jobs town hall meetings” in nearly a dozen different parts of the city. Hundreds of Milwaukeeans turned out, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, and each was given an opportunity to sign up for SkillSmart Seeker and register for RPP on-site.

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SkillSmart connects people, training, jobs in Western Mass.

First published by Jim Kinney at, October 25, 2017. 

Baystate Health has 12,000 employees and makes about 1,400 new hires a year of folks from outside its system, said President and CEO Mark Keroack.

And as the city’s largest employer, Baystate’s gotten used to creating its own pipelines, or dedicated training programs to fill its need for workers, Keroack said.

That’s changing with Springfield Works and SkillSmart, an online portal for job seekers that tells them what skills they need for the job they want. It also helps them identify the skills they have already — either from school, the military or just from living their lives — and helps them find places that offer the training they need.

Baystate is one of 20 local employers that have posted a total of 100 jobs in the new SkillSmart portal, accessible at It’s a project of Springfield Works and the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. Springfield Works and the EDC rolled it out Wednesday with an event at the UMass Center at Springfield in Tower Square after 18 months of tinkering.

MGM Springfield already uses SkillSmart to evaluate job seekers for the roughly 3,00 jobs it pledged to create when its $960 million resort casino opens 11 months from now in September 2018.

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Group Students Hands Raised Graduation Concept

States Use Workforce Data to Connect Colleges to Careers

First published by SHRM, October 12, 2017. 

A new study highlights how several states are helping students choose what to study depending on the skills local employers say they need.

The report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), a nonprofit research and policy institute based in Washington, D.C., outlines ways that data is being translated to help job seekers and employers better understand the connections between the skills available in local talent pools and what students study in college.

“Learners and workers need a modern guidance system with clear and comprehensive consumer information that will help them make good college and career decisions,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the center and the report’s lead author. “Such a system will also help employers frustrated by skills shortages to more precisely identify and hire talented workers, colleges to refresh and strengthen their programs to improve student outcomes, and policymakers to better allocate resources to build strong economies.”

The report features examples of eight states integrating data to:

• Assist schools in developing curricula aligned with the skills and abilities that job seekers will need to succeed with local employers.

• Help workers understand how to take advantage of postsecondary education and training options as they change jobs and navigate their careers.

Applying Data—Quickly

“The challenge is to use local market data that is captured in real time so that students can see the relevance of what they’re doing and employers can see how those skills connect to what they need,” said Mike Knapp, CEO and co-founder of the job placement platform SkillSmart, which connects employers, job seekers and educational partners to help close identified skills gaps. “It is also important for the states to allow school systems to make curriculum modifications based on local market needs, or for the states to be able to aggregate the real-time skills of local industries into a broader statewide curriculum. There are some good tools out there that walk students through their interests and how those align to the workforce but [that] don’t then link to local or regional markets.”

In Maryland, for example, state officials implemented several new assessments to ensure that high school graduates are “college or career ready” but neglected to connect the test results to the skills employers said they needed, Knapp said. “While the effort is good, it’s still going to take a while for states to go from a theoretical exercise into a practical local activity that shows students how the skills they’re learning in school link directly to jobs in their communities.”

Lessons Learned from the States

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and Indiana Chamber Foundation created IndianaSkills in 2012 as an online jobs database that allows employers to compare educational requirements by job, view wages paid to similar employees around the state and create job descriptions. Job seekers can use the site to find career opportunities and short-term training programs that best match their skills and interests, are in high demand and offer competitive wages.

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Maryland Meeting the Urgent Demand for Cybersecurity Workers

First published by I-95 Business, October, 2017.

Cybersecurity is one of this century’s most urgent global imperatives. Financial damages are measured in the trillions of dollars and are a result of the proliferation of digital devices into every aspect of our daily lives in pursuit of the holy grail of convenience, access and speed with little or no regard for protecting valuable assets from adversaries. And these cyber adversaries are increasing the sophistication, variety and frequency of attacks. Adding to this is the fact that cyber attackers have advantages: it’s easier to attack than defend, and there are many weaknesses in all but the very best systems.

Maryland’s Unprecedented Opportunity

There is a silver lining in this gloomy cloud, and it’s Maryland’s opportunity for unmatched job creation. As a result of our proximity to and experience with the U.S. intelligence agencies and the Department of Defense as well as our stellar academic and training organizations, we have some of the most skilled cybersecurity workers and the highest geographic concentration of cybersecurity workforce in the country (according to NIST’s CyberSeek program data). And with the U.S. federal government market no longer capable of delivering high job growth, focusing on capturing high market share in a high growth, high pay industry like cybersecurity is smart.

Globally, there are 1 million open cybersecurity jobs, a number that experts project to rapidly increase to 1.5 million. With the cybersecurity jobs demand exceeding workforce supply, Maryland companies are competing with companies across the United States and internationally for existing talent, leading to a need to embrace “new collar” jobs, a phrase coined by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty referring to jobs that require skills but not necessarily specific degrees.

Solution: Maryland Cyber Jobs Platform

To take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity for job creation, the non-profit Cybersecurity Association of Maryland, Inc. (CAMI), in partnership with Germantown-based SkillSmart, recently launched Maryland Cyber Jobs (MCJ) at MCJ is a state-ofthe- art online jobs platform. What makes this platform unique and more valuable in comparison to traditional, mass-market job boards is its reliance on a skills-based methodology and algorithm to identify qualified candidates that match employers’ specific needs. It’s a process that ultimately saves employers time, effort and money.

The platform also helps candidates identify not only jobs that match their current skills but also skills they might need to acquire for the jobs they want. There is no cost for job seekers to create a profile and use the MCJ platform, which will show them how they stack up (score) against specific hiring requirements for individual jobs. MCJ goes a step further in the job search process, presenting job seekers with information and connections to education, training, certification, internship and apprenticeship resources where they can get the skills and experience needed for jobs of interest.


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Enough Talk, Let’s Get to Work

Why is it that each day we see a story about a company that can’t find workers, communities without jobs, and graduates not finding work?

It’s not that we don’t have jobs. 
We have 6.2 million unfilled jobs in the U.S., more than at any time in our history.

It’s not that we don’t have training. 
We have more capacity and more students enrolled in our community colleges, training programs and universities than at any point in history.

It’s not that we don’t have good people willing to work.
We have more high school graduates, vocational school and community college graduates, and university graduates than any time in our history. We have thousands of experienced, underemployed Veterans transitioning from the military.

All the same, more people are struggling to find good jobs than at any time in our history – and this is a problem that we can tackle right now in every community in the U.S. Let’s start with what’s broken and then address how to fix it.

First, job boards don’t work. Simply matching job descriptions to resumes does not lead to good outcomes and job descriptions don’t do a good job of telling an applicant what they need to do to be successful. Ask any employer, all you get is a time-wasting list of unqualified candidates to sort through.

Second, when an individual is not well qualified for a job, there is no clear path of how to get there.

Third, just because a course is offered at a local college doesn’t mean that it will help you get a job.

Finally, most people, employers, or schools don’t want to do anything differently, even thought the current process doesn’t work.

Let’s resolve this Labor Day to fix this mess. Here’s what to do:

First, employers must identify the skills they need and use this in their job postings – not just entry-level.  This will make it clearer within their organization and to applicants what they must do to be successful.

Second, job seekers must use the specific experiences they’ve had in their life (school, work, volunteer, etc.) to demonstrate how they can do the skills the employer is seeking.

Third, local colleges and training programs must look at the skills the employers are seeking to ensure their courses provide students with what they need to get hired.

These three simple steps will help align the interests of the three key stakeholders in a community – employers, job seekers, and educators – and train better employees, improve education outcomes and make stronger employers.

In the words of Home Depot – Let’s Do This… and we can help.


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Maryland cyber group aims to decrease number of unfilled industry jobs

First published by Baltimore Business Journal, August 22, 2017.

The Cybersecurity Association of Maryland Inc. is launching a new online jobs platform in partnership with Germantown job-seeking firm SkillSmart.

Maryland Cyber Jobs was built to address the shortage of qualified candidates to fill open cyber positions across all industry sectors. Using a skills-based methodology tailored to each hiring company, the platform aims to reduce the time, effort and expense for Maryland employers to find qualified candidates for cyber-related positions.

The Maryland Cyber Jobs platform can also help potential employees to find jobs that best match their experience and current skills, and identify any skills they need to acquire for the jobs they want. The service identifies relevant education, training, certification, internship and apprenticeship resources in Maryland, where job seekers can obtain necessary skills and experience.

Private employers and state officials have been making strides recently to confront the cyber talent gap issue. The new jobs platform is another step in that vein.

Labor statistics have shown that more than 200,000 U.S. cybersecurity jobs are currently unfilled, and the shortage is projected to grow to more than 1.5 million unfilled positions by 2019.

The talent shortage is particularly an issue for Maryland, which has more than 12,000 IT and cybersecurity companies, serving organizations like the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command. The state is also home to 17 higher education institutions that have been designated National Academic Centers of Excellence in Cyber Defense.

Stacey Smith, the Cybersecurity Association’s executive director, said numerous commercial businesses and cybersecurity companies have complained that using standard job boards is laborious. Recruiters often have to sift through too much information to find the few people they might actually want to hire. The new jobs platform marks an attempt to streamline the cyber recruiting process.

“For us, it’s not about the number of applicants, it’s about the quality,” Evan Dornbush, founder and CEO of Point3 Security, said in a statement. “I’d rather have four good ones to review versus having to sift through 400.”

Smith said the jobs platform is not just for use by cybersecurity companies, but for any business, government entity or nonprofit looking to fill a cyber position. Smith said she hopes as the platform grows, it will attract potential candidates from across the U.S. and from foreign countries as well, brining a larger skilled workforce to Maryland.

Maryland has one of the most robust cyber industries in the world, but it needs to be supported by a strong talent pool to continue to grow.

“This is a highly valuable competitive advantage for our state, and we’re excited and proud to offer it,” Smith said in a statement.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Cybersecurity Association of Maryland, Inc. Launches SkillSmart

The Cybersecurity Association of Maryland, Inc. (CAMI) announced today the launch of a state-of-the-art online jobs platform in partnership with Maryland-based firm SkillSmart. Maryland Cyber Jobs (MCJ) addresses the chronic shortage across all industry sectors in finding qualified candidates for Maryland cybersecurity positions. Using a skills-based methodology tailored to each hiring entity, MCJ reduces the time, effort and expense for Maryland employers to find qualified candidates for cyber-related positions. MCJ also helps candidates identify jobs that match their experience and current skills, as well as the skills they need to acquire for the jobs they want. Additionally, the platform identifies Maryland education, training, certification, internship and apprenticeship resources where job seekers can get the skills and experience needed for jobs of interest. The jobs platform can be found at

“This platform dramatically reduces the time a hiring organization will have to invest to find best-fit candidates,” notes CAMI Executive Director Stacey Smith. She continues, “Numerous commercial businesses and cybersecurity companies have told us that using standard job boards is laborious because they have to sift through too much information to find the few gems they might actually want to hire. MCJ directly addresses this shortcoming. Additionally, it’s a platform that connects all three of the critical elements for a successful workforce program: employers, job seekers and entities that provide the education, skills, training and experience for job seekers.”

Founder & CEO of Point3 Security, Evan Dornbush, notes, “We found 4 excellent-fit candidates within 3 days of posting several of our jobs and the required skills. We worked closely with a member of the SkillSmart team to optimize our job postings to attract the right candidates. That personalized service was a unique benefit for us in the job posting process and it’s already paying off with the quality of candidates we’ve received. For us, it’s not about the number of applicants; it’s about the quality. I’d rather have 4 good ones to review versus having to sift through 400.”

MCJ is not just for cybersecurity companies; it’s for all businesses, government entities and non-profit organizations looking to fill their cyber hiring needs.

“As we grow and market the platform, I expect we’ll be attracting candidates from across the nation and internationally. This will serve as a great workforce attraction tool for our state,” adds Smith.

Convenience is paramount in today’s fast-moving economy and with the launch of MCJ combined with its online directory of 350+ MD cybersecurity product and service providers, CAMI has made the one-stop shop for cybersecurity solutions and workforce within the state of Maryland and accessible globally. “This is a highly valuable competitive advantage for our State, and we’re excited and proud to offer it,” says Smith.



About SkillSmart
SkillSmart is a skills-based, technology platform that helps growing organizations and industries find the talent they need by matching job seekers to employment opportunities based on skills and abilities. To accomplish this, SkillSmart partners with companies from a variety of industries and provides access to their proprietary technology to allow them to search and filter through a pipeline of qualified candidates. Where gaps exist, SkillSmart partners with local training resources to provide skill-building opportunities. SkillSmart’s mission is to end the skills gap that employers face in filling various roles.
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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: SkillSmart Selected for 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge

SkillSmart has been selected as a finalist in the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge, sponsored by MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, which is awarding over $1 million to tech-driven organizations that are reinventing the future of work.

This year’s award categories are Skills Development & Opportunity Matching, Income Growth & Job Creation, Technology Access, and Financial Inclusion. Nearly 160 expert Core Judges scored and commented on each completed application assigned to them. The 16 top scoring Finalists will advance to the Champion Committee, who will select four Grand Prize Winners to each receive $150,000. The remaining 12 Finalists will each receive $35,000. On October 12, 2017, the IIC will announce and celebrate the Winners at a gala event at HUBweek.

Finalists are using technology today that reinvents work and creates economic opportunity for people below the top rung of the economic ladder; these finalists are currently enhancing shared prosperity through their product or service. Both for-profit companies and non-profit organizations have been chosen for the 2017 MIT Inclusive Innovation Challenge.

SkillSmart is competing in the category of Income Growth & Job Creation. Read more from MIT Inclusive Innovation or contact Jason Green at 240-498-4492 or


About SkillSmart
SkillSmart is a skills-based, tech-enabled platform that helps growing organizations and industries find the talent they need by matching job seekers to employment opportunities based on skills and abilities. To accomplish this, SkillSmart partners with companies from a variety of industries and provides access to their proprietary technology to allow them to search and filter through a pipeline of qualified candidates. SkillSmart’s mission is to end the skills gap that employers face in filling various roles. 
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National education startup workshop held in Phoenix to forge new relationships, partnerships with local companies

First published by Phoenix Business Journal, July 31, 2017.

Washington, D.C.-based Village Capital brought 12 education startups from across the country to Phoenix to meet local companies, mentors and city and business leaders for possible partnerships.

The four-day workshop was held at the Phoenix-based social entrepreneur incubator Seed Spot from July 25 to 28. The local workshop, which focused on workforce development, is part of a series of three workshops held in various cities across the country, said Marissa Lowman, Village Capital’s education practice lead.

“Village Capital finds, trains and invests in entrepreneurs that may not traditionally get funding, such as entrepreneurs from smaller cities and founded by minorities and women,” Lowman said. “We chose Phoenix because of its leading universities, thriving startup ecosystem and the high number of local companies that our startups could partner with.”

For example, Jason Green, co-founder of SkillSmart, a D.C.-based software-as-a-service startup designed to improve hiring outcomes, talked to the Phoenix economic development department and Arizona State University on future partnerships.

“I am quite impressed with the work being done locally,” said Green, who was visiting Phoenix for the first time. “I didn’t have to convince people here of the importance of workforce ability, which has been difficult in other cities. We’re mainly here to build partnerships, relationships and maybe open an office here one day.”

Nathan Doctor, CEO and co-founder of, a San Francisco-based software startup that trains and assesses software engineers for companies, had a good conversation with Scottsdale-based ed-tech company Parchment.

“We had good synergy with Parchment, which had used a competitor of ours but no longer does. We talked about how to improve their hiring process and train current developers with new technology,” Doctor said. “People are super friendly here. It seems like a great community.”

At the end of the third workshop, which will be held in Denver in mid September, two startups will receive investment from Village Capital. The winning companies will be chosen by the attending startups through a peer ranking, Lowman said.

“The workshops are held in different cities to show them what different communities have to offer and as a way to build new relationships,” she said. “We are very impressed with how engaged the community is here. Everyone wanted to help out.”

The AT&T-sponsored workshop was the first big event for Seed Spot in its new space in Phoenix’s Warehouse District. Village Capital and Seed Spot have partnered over the past six months as Seed Spot launched in D.C., said John Johnson, Seed Spot’s community development manager.

“We were happy to support them by providing a space for them to hold their workshop in Phoenix,” Johnson said. “This workshop did so much for the Phoenix community from what I observed. All of the ventures participating in the workshop were from other parts of the country, providing a new set of businesses for our community leaders to engage with. There were more than 30 leaders from the community, including Mayor Greg Stanton, who visited the space to provide support and guidance to the businesses. I believe this event gave the Phoenix community a glimpse into how Seed Spot’s expansion has already and will continue to bring positive connections to Phoenix.”

Paul Parent, a product marketing director with Gilbert-based financial aid software company CampusLogic, was part of a local group that offered ways to help Village Capital through company connections and letting them know what’s going on in the ed-tech community.

“I wanted to pay it forward, create connections and hope good things will happen,” said Parent, a volunteer with EdTechAZ, a website that promotes the Arizona ed-tech ecosystem. “I’m hoping for future partnerships, company expansions and just basic knowledge sharing. I’m excited they brought this here.”

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Skills on the National Stage

skills on the national stageWe are excited to see the emergence of a national conversation on the importance of using skills to build the workforce, improve hiring outcomes, and increase opportunities for success. In the past few months we have seen a focus on rebuilding America’s infrastructure, products Made In America, and helping workers rebuild their skills to increase opportunities for success in the workplace.

There have also been recent efforts on behalf of some foundations to direct tens of millions of dollars to see if philanthropy can build a system to create a stronger workforce.

In just two years, the SkillSmart platform has been used by more than 20,000 job seekers, to assist more than 30 employers to hire more than 1,000 people for jobs paying between $35,000 and $80,000 annually. 

By using a skills-based model for hiring, SkillSmart increases transparency in the hiring process, improves hiring outcomes for job seekers and increases employee retention. We have demonstrated that a skills-based focus on hiring is not just a good idea, it’s good business.

We have real data from working with employers and communities to focus on skills to build stronger workers, increase job retention, and improve efficiency in hiring. Most important, we’ve found this can be done with a scalable technology solution with the market paying for these outcomes and without relying on philanthropic dollars.

Skills-based hiring is not a charitable activity; it’s a real-world, market-based solution to close the skills gap and grow our economy. And we’re supporting the movement by continuing to identify new clients, in new communities, and new industries.

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