Local companies work to make national impact on hiring process

Two Tri-City-based organizations have teamed up with a westside nonprofit to spearhead an effort to upend the job search process on a nationwide scale – and for a chance to win up to $2 million.

On the line isn’t just the pot of prize money but also what leaders of the companies hope will be a framework that connects workers to family-wage jobs through a training model that can be replicated across the country.

The team, called Dignity of Work, is made up of Career Path Services, a workforce development and human services nonprofit with offices in Kennewick; WholeStory, a technology platform that provides insight into diverse life experiences to power better hiring, based in the Tri-Cities; and ANEW, an apprenticeship-focused nonprofit working to improve access and advancement of women in nontraditional careers, based in Renton.

The team already has advanced in the XPRIZE Rapid Reskilling competition.

The 30-month contest is designed to incentivize teams to develop and demonstrate the effectiveness of rapid training and reskilling solutions for those most vulnerable to employment loss in the United States.

The Dignity of Work team already won a $100,000 purse after beating 117 other teams from 20 countries to advance with a program that combines skills training with better hiring strategies.

To win the contest, the teams must reduce training time by at least 50% for occupations with a living wage. The training must be provided at no cost to the job seeker. Teams must ensure job retention of at least 60 days.

And they have to show it works with real people in real jobs.

Training will be offered to 3,500 displaced workers early in the competition and then be expanded to help at least 25,000 others in the final round. The best strategies, if adopted on a nationwide scale, have the potential to transform the way workers train for more than 12 million jobs, according to XPRIZE.

XPRIZE is usually focused on science-heavy problems like space travel and climate change, so having a prize focused on workforce development is a major recognition of the importance of this challenge that our country faces at this crucial moment, said John Roach, cofounder and chief executive officer of WholeStory.

An added benefit is being able to highlight the needs and opportunities related to the workforce and the labor market in “our own community, as we emerge from the pandemic,” Roach said.

It’s become more important than ever, given the state of the country’s job market in the wake of Covid-19 shutdowns in early 2020, when the U.S. unemployment rate reached a high of 14.7% in April 2020.

Washington’s unemployment rate was 5.4% in March 2021, with Benton County’s rate at 5.9% and Franklin County, 7%.

“This isn’t about training people to be able to go make $7.25 an hour in the 30-plus states where that’s still minimum wage. This is about, ‘How do we provide solutions that get people to where they can actually support a family,’ ” Roach said.

He gets animated talking about this topic.

“This is about how we can recognize we need to upskill and reskill tens of millions of workers in the next decade and do it in a way that is considered and has intentionality attached to it. That’s a real key piece of this competition,” he said.

Though the jobs Roach and his team  focus on in the competition won’t be in the Tri-Cities, the Washington-based team hopes to spin the program out of the competition, whether it wins or not.

“It’s this big stage that’s being built for innovation in the labor market right at the time when it’s most needed – at the time of Covid, and the racial equity conversation we’re in midst of, and recognition of all of the embedded inequities that have been easy to ignore for a long time.

“If this works, it’s something that can be applied broadly across multiple industries,” Roach said.

Unique advantage

The Dignity of Work team has a unique advantage, Roach said.

“We are the only team anchored with an established workforce development operator like (Career Path Services),” he said.

Career Path Services is a 50-year-old nonprofit that has provided workforce services in the Tri-Cities since 2003. It’s based out of the WorkSource Columbia Basin office in Kennewick.

Each team in the XPRIZE contest is paired with one of six workforce development councils across the nation to implement their workforce training plan.

“We are not doing any coordinating of our solution in Washington state. We’re hopeful of being able to bring it here regardless of XPRIZE. We thought it made sense to use XPRIZE as our test and make real-time adjustments before we brought it back to our colleagues around the state,” said Kayci Loftus, director of workforce development for Career Path Services.

The Washington team is paired with Hampton Roads Workforce Council in Norfolk, Virginia.

How it works

The team began recruiting job seekers in Virginia in early May. If the team advances through the process, they’ll expand from 350 job seekers to 5,000 job seekers.

“We’re focused on construction right now as the sole industry for the first round. If we’re one of five teams that move into the next round, it will be across three industries,” Roach said.

Loftus said the main industries in need of workers are technology, health care, manufacturing and construction.

Once job seekers are identified, they’ll begin a two-part training with Dignity of Work.

They’ll go through a virtual construction boot camp to learn construction basics and jobs available in the industry. ANEW will provide the online training curriculum.

Job seekers complete the training with an Occupational Safety and Health Administration 10-hour certification. They’ll also participate in a small hands-on building project.

After boot camp

After the training, the team will prepare participants for job interviews.

“We do a really good job of getting them prepared for the workforce but there’s always that missing element and that’s really incorporating the human side of a human being and that lived experience. That’s really important to be able to tell as part of job applicant’s story,” Loftus said.

That’s where WholeStory comes in.

“We knew we needed a solution that met the needs of the whole person,” Loftus said. “WholeStory is the culmination and preparation and packaging to get that customer well suited to go in front of those employers for those interviews.”

WholeStory will teach employees how to be the expert on themselves and communicate who they are as people, Roach said.

WholeStory, a Tri-City startup in operation since 2006, was profiled by the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business in November 2016.

“WholeStory is very focused on identifying and empowering employees to see these character strengths and soft skills that employers are desperate to find but don’t even know how to ask about in the interview, because there’s so much entrenched bias, process, HR language and legal misunderstandings of things that have all combined together to make the job interview a very staged kind of thing in most companies,” Roach said.

Roach said the process gives job seekers more confidence to talk about their soft skills.

“Of course as a company, we also work with employers – they’re also our primary revenue stream as a matter of fact – and so we have a whole host of tools to help employers understand how to interpret that information, how to ask good questions, how to actually create a setting where an authentic interview like that can take place.

“We’re also making those tools available to the employers who are participating in this XPRIZE as well,” Roach said.

End goals

The team’s virtual training program can be empowering for all kinds of people, Roach said.

“Like for stay-at-home moms who have schedule constraints that don’t allow them to go to a traditional school schedule,” he said. “I really believe this is going to have impacts and potential to go beyond just the XPRIZE.”

Loftus said changing up the job training model is imperative right now, “with the way that our workforce is aging, automizing, Covid – there are so many factors playing against our workforce, it’s time that workforce professionals like ourselves are creating solutions that can meet the needs of the consumer without stretching them so thin that they’re having to pick and choose between going to school and educating themselves and getting positions for meaningful work and taking care of their family.”

XPRIZE winners will be announced in January 2023.

For more information, go to https://DignityofWork.us.

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