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Finding A Better Way To Move From 'Jobs' To 'Careers'

Deborah Wynn found her job at University Hospitals after completing the WorkAdvance program. (Screenshot from ideastream video)

One of the most prominent and perennial messages for voters from politicians is about the need for jobs—and last year we heard a lot about them:

DONALD TRUMP: “We’re losing our jobs, we’re losing our factories.  They’re going to China, they’re going to Mexico…”

HILLARY CLINTON: “…and these are jobs that can’t be exported. They’ve got to be done right here in Cleveland, in Youngstown, in Dayton, in Akron, in Columbus, in Cincinnati…”

JOHN KASICH: “…you want to believe again that we can have job security.  You want to believe again that wages can rise. You want to believe…”

Along with the talk of jobs, we often hear about wages, and about training or re-training, but are we talking about these things in the right way?

DEBORAH WYNN: “Patients room one all the way to the end…”

Deborah Wynn is a CTA at University Hospitals…

WYNN: “Which stands for Certified Technical Assistant, pretty much like a nurse’s aide.”

But for a long time she owned a hair salon, and then she got her real estate license. 

But these jobs weren’t enough.

WYNN: “I was looking for a career just to retire in.  And I found that the healthcare industry was the only field that I’d seen that didn’t take a downturn.”

A friend told Wynn about a program being administered through Towards Employment, an organization helping people find and keep work, and helping companies find workers.

Deborah Wynn 

WYNN: “It was a two week program, and it wasn’t a guarantee. I didn’t believe it, especially at my age, and it worked.”

Wynn is now 59-years-old, and sings the praises of a two-year program called Work Advance.  The program helped with resume writing, mock interviews, training, and career planning. 

The goal was to link employees with growth industries for our region—manufacturing, and, in the case of Wynn, healthcare.

WYNN: “I needed Towards Employment so bad.  Doing it on my own I had tried for almost three years, so there was no way. I was putting in application after application, and nothing worked.  With them as soon as I went in, two weeks and I had a job.”

RIZIKA: “It is very much a shift, from how quickly can we get somebody into a job, to thinking about a longer-term career and how to support that.”

Jill Rizika is Executive Director of Towards Employment.

RIZIKA: “There’s a lot of dynamics that push people into thinking about just a job.  From the individual standpoint, very often you need money in your pocket and you need a job, without thinking about how certain steps might position you for a bigger jump down the road.  And from the I guess workforce system side, the way funding is structured, very often the emphasis on the funding and performance measures was ‘how many people got a job, and how quickly.’”

Northeast Ohio was one of a handful of regions to use the Work Advance model that Deborah Wynn at UH benefited from, funded in part by a federal grant and local stakeholders. 

Instead of focusing on the number of jobs, the focus was on the entire experience.  Employers explained what they needed, and employees were trained and supported in finding a new career.

Jill Rizika, Executive Director, Towards Employment

RIZIKA: “If we are thinking long term what’s best for the individual and for our companies is to take this longer perspective and really help people navigate a career pathway over the long term, it’s really a win for everybody.”

The Work Advance pilot program spent two years providing services to some job seekers, and keeping tabs on some who didn’t receive them for comparison. 

The findings were promising: participants earned 14% more than those not in the program, and later participants saw even more efficient gains, earning 22% more than non-participants. 

The program also saw benefits for people facing additional employment barriers.

RIZIKA: “Fifty-percent of the people who came through our manufacturing track had some criminal justice involvement, and when we look at results and we look at how different demographics performed, once you entered the program those with criminal backgrounds got jobs and advanced at the same rate as those that didn’t.”

To some degree, a program like WorkAdvance seems obvious: workers are trained and supported in a way that employers need…so why isn’t it happening already? 

WorkAdvance acted like an umbrella program to unite services available, that workers may not know about. 

Bethia Burke is with the Fund for our Economic Future, which helped bring and fund WorkAdvance in Northeast Ohio.

BURKE: “It seems like a logical set of services, yet we know through this evidence that people are not receiving these services in our community.  So this means that this “logical set of services” that we think is available in the community either isn’t available, isn’t available at the level that we need, or isn’t accessible by people.”

The WorkAdvance program as carried-out was just a pilot, to prove the concept of targeting workers at the employers who need them. 

Bethia Burke, Fund for our Economic Future

And now there is data to show the model works. 

BURKE: “Regardless of your perspective, this program demonstrated better outcomes for people.  So whether you think that we should be more efficient with our dollars, this shows we can be more efficient with the dollars that are in the system.  If you think that there are not enough dollars to serve people, this says when you do have dollars you should use them in a way that you’re getting the most bang for your buck. So unless you don’t want people to get an advance in jobs, I don’t know what opposition you would have to the WorkAdvance approach.”

Part of the disconnect in training and careers lies in the past ways of how the U.S. has thought of the workforce, says Mark Muro, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution whose focus includes labor.

MURO: “Frequently industry has viewed the preparation of workers as somebody else’s responsibility, meanwhile the training infrastructure is often pursued a kind of social services model and hasn’t really looked very carefully at the job market that it was serving, and that has not led to good results.”

Muro says a hallmark of the best solutions involves a deep collaboration between employers and the training system to find workers careers. 

It’s this kind of collaboration under WorkAdvance that helped Joseph Montgomery find his place at Swagelok, an Ohio manufacturer of valves, fittings, and more. 

He had spent time in retail, ran a Radio Shack, and even did well selling cars for a time, but then he re-trained.

Joseph Montgomery

MONTGOMERY: “One of the things that WorkAdvance did, they have a scholarship, with the company Swagelok that I’m partnered with at Cuyahoga Community College they have a program called ‘Right Skills Now’ and they funded 75% of my tuition to go there.  So after I finished that, I went in as a level two, instead of a level one.  So I started off with a higher wage, and the advancement is, the potential is, huge.”

Montgomery is now a CNC multi-spindle lathe operator, crafting components for Swagelok. 

MONTGOMERY: “This sort of experience needs to be broadened and there needs to be more opportunities for people who want to seek out careers. I hear a lot of people say ‘I can’t find a job,’ well stop looking for a job, start looking for a career.  If you have a career, you don’t have to look for a job.”

And for Joseph Montgomery, and Deborah Wynn now working at the hospital, they want more people to know that WorkAdvance helped them find that career, and find a bit more stability in their lives.

Tony Ganzer has reported from Phoenix to Cairo, and was the host of 90.3's "All Things Considered." He was previously a correspondent with the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, covering issues like Swiss banks, Parliament, and refugees. He earned an M.A. in International Relations (University of Leicester); and a B.Sc. in Journalism (University of Idaho.) He speaks German, and a bit of French.