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Get In and Move Up: A Workforce Strategy Driven By Industry Needs

Although the US economy has seen positive signs of recovery, many Americans still find themselves in low-wage, part-time positions with little room for advancement. Some of those workers found their jobs through workforce development agencies, which provide training and assistance in the job search process. Workforce development agencies are traditionally involved only in the job search process, and they have little incentive to ensure that people move up within their company or industry and have opportunities to advance their careers. A San Francisco-based agency called Jewish Vocational Services (JVS) has developed a dual-customer model to improve the experience both for employers and for job seekers.

In the traditional workforce development model, employers are burdened by the risks of hiring someone new. If a new employee does not succeed, a company forfeits the resources invested in that person. At the same time, it can also be difficult for motivated entry-level employees to access the training and resources they need to succeed. Yet entry-level positions can be a great opportunity for job seekers, provided there is a clear path for advancement.

To reduce the risk associated with hiring new employees, JVS’s model provides a continuum of services for individual job seekers, while simultaneously seeking to meet the hiring needs of its private sector partners. It was designed as a “win-win” strategy, providing individuals with financial stability and meaningful employment and employers with a more productive workforce, higher retention rates and significant cost savings.

Aptly nicknamed the “Get In and Get Up” model, JVS provides traditional workforce development services such as career development, skills/training and job placement/coaching. But importantly, after helping a client find a job, JVS provides continuing training to help increase the incumbent’s likelihood of success in the position. The program’s success has depended strongly on the strong business relationships JVS has built with its other customer – private sector businesses. Where most workforce services are structured around individuals’ needs, JVS’s model is driven by businesses.

Also unlike traditional workforce development agencies, JVS does not try to sell a prescriptive product or service. Instead, JVS spends significant time with its private sector partners to understand their hiring and talent needs. JVS then narrowly tailors its services to that client’s needs, collaborating with third-party service providers or partners as needed.

Depending on the employer, JVS’s services may include:

  • Recruitment: Pre-screening of candidates, pre-employment training, job fairs and customized recruiting events, hiring process and paperwork assistance, diversity recruiting
  • Training and Development: Vocational skills (ESOL, customer service, computer proficiency), pre-college skills (writing, math and study skills), certifications (Certified Nursing Assistant, Culinary Arts, Allied Health) and industry knowledge (healthcare, retail, hospitality, manufacturing)
  • Retention: Ongoing performance support, career coaching, continuous training for advancement
  • Employer support: Follow-up with HR to track placements and ongoing needs, issue resolution, translation services, professional development for HR, program administration

This private sector-driven approach has proven so beneficial to employers that JVS now receives two-thirds of its funding from private sector sources.  This is a sharp contrast to just 10 years ago, when JVS’s primary funding sources were governmental and philanthropic.

JVS used this model in San Francisco with great success. JVS partnered with the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) – the city’s second largest employer – to provide training for local, low-income residents to move into well-paying medical administrative assistant (MAA) positions. Together they created the EXCEL (Excellence through Community Engagement and Learning) program, which includes training in computers, customer service, reading and writing, math, financial literacy and additional soft skills—all contextualized specifically for UCSF’s environment.

After 10 weeks of in-classroom training, participants are placed in 4-month paid internships at UCSF. EXCEL interns work 32 hours per week, Monday-Thursday and earn $15.67/hour, then return to JVS on Fridays for reinforcement training with their job coaches. Fridays also serve as an opportunity to learn from peers. UCSF provides EXCEL interns with work experience and exposure to UCSF’s performance standards, attendance requirements and evolving technology. EXCEL internships prepare participants for full-time work as MAAs, which pay an average wage of over $38,000 annually in the Bay Area. At the end of the program, EXCEL participants are eligible for permanent, full-time administrative employment within UCSF.

Jewish Vocational Services provides a model for effective industry-driven workforce development, and it is particularly unique in that its model is designed to help employees advance. In an era of reduced state and federal support for ongoing workforce training, the “Get In and Get Up” model offers real promise for serving industry in a way that is both replicable and sustainable over time.

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