(photo credit: John Guenther) People network at a career fair in Los Angeles.
Creating a stronger workforce is one of the main initiatives that the California Economic Summit has identified as key ingredient to creating more middle-class jobs in the state. Walter Larkins is CEO of CDR Financial Services LLC, a growing accounts receivables management (ARM) company located in Long Beach CA, and is a member of the Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board.
Recently, he agreed to share some thoughts about the state of workforce development in California.
1. The California Economic Summit has identified workforce preparation as a key driver of improving the economy. What are the policy areas that you think should be emphasized to improve how we develop our workforce?
a. Require the unemployed/jobseeker to volunteer, attend mandatory jobs training including hard and life skills development fulltime 40 hours per week while they are receiving benefits from state or federal programs including General Relief & Food Stamps and unemployment benefits:
Many employers consider individuals who have been unemployed for over 6 months unemployable because they perceive that they no longer have a job-ready routine and both their hard and soft skills have diminished.
b. Develop effective and more coordinated outreach and supportive services to small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB):
Large employers get all the love, yet the SMB’s hire the most people. There is something wrong with that picture. I have heard from many state and federal agencies including the SBA and America’s Jobs Centers that our programs are our best kept secret and that they have problems reaching small and midsize businesses (SMB’s). That is a problem that needs to be fixed and placed on the highest policy priority.
c. Educate the job seeker on where and how to look for a job, how to interview and how to keep a job in today’s environment:
America’s Job Centers & Schools need to get a major facelift on how they serve jobseekers in terms of training. Real face-to-face networking is still the most effective way to get interviews versus sending resumes and yet today’s social media creates new opportunities for both employer and prospective employees. Practical training programs have to better reflect this new reality.
2. The Workforce Investment Boards around the state are sometimes criticized for not being very effective tools for identifying and placing qualified workers. As an L.A. County WIB member, do you agree? How are you trying to change the process to make them more effective?
As a board member it is obvious that we could be doing better at job training job seekers, understanding and addressing business needs, identifying and developing relationships with employers and the bottom line, placing job seekers in jobs. But in L.A. County we are making progress. Part of our strategy is to create a two-pronged approach: creating a new Business Services function that asks employers what they need and an Employer Services function that will recruit, test, select, train and place jobseekers for those positions. We are engaging other players in the workforce industry, like the EDD and the VA to name a couple. The result can and must be training programs for jobs seekers that are designed for the 21st century economy.
3. One thing you said at a recent WIB meeting was that the workforce industry needs to remember that the customer is the employer and you’ve also said that the worker needs to be repackaged as a product. Can you explain?
One of the challenges of the old system was that the jobseeker was identified as the Client or Customer. The employer wasn’t considered a full partner.
Before I was on the LACWIB board, a job developer from a local Worksource Center came to my office and kept talking about his customer, but nothing he was saying appeared to apply to me or any other business. Confused, I became somewhat irritated (because for most business owners time is money) and asked, “Whom are you talking about?” I knew he wasn’t talking about me and I was the person who was going to decide whether to hire his candidate or not. Since then, as I’ve become more involved in the workforce industry through my service on the LACWIB board, I’ve been a missionary for converting this industry into understanding that the employer is the one who has the jobs and his or her needs must be met if the job candidates are going to be successfully placed.
5. How should the workforce and education systems approach training?
The current trend is to offer vocational training such as Medical Billing, Correctional Officers and Paralegal to name a few. This is the wrong approach.
Employers expect employees have certain core hard and life skills that frankly are becoming more difficult to find, skills like business reading and writing, core mathematical skills and using technology. These are not areas where employers want to train an employee–they want them to arrive with these skills. With respect to the job skills, most employers within these sectors (such as manufacturing, biotech, greentech, healthcare etc, have proprietary internal training programs and therefore they are not likely to outsource those functions so competitors can have access to them, particularly for highly technical fields. Exceptions to that rule are the construction trades such as welding, carpentry electrical etc.
That being stated, these hard skills cross all sectors and are becoming difficult to find at a high level and therefore burdening employers, particularly SMB’s that are less likely to have internal training for these areas and cannot afford to send employees to training programs to learn these skills. Our schools and our training centers need to make sure that these hard skills come with the applicant to the interview. The employer can take it from there and help develop a productive employee that can be a valued contributor for years to come.