Advancing Occupational Readiness: Preparing Job Seekers For Good Jobs In Growth Sectors | Maher & Maher
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Advancing Occupational Readiness: Preparing Job Seekers For Good Jobs In Growth Sectors

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In this 55-minute episode, host Rick Maher is joined by Walter Simmons, President and CEO of Employ Prince George’s Inc., Paul Grzella, Director of the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board, and Kirkland Murray, President and CEO of Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation. All three organizations were awardees of the IMPAQ/Maher Education Fund. Discover how each organization plans to use their awarded funds, and how they are creating partnerships across various sectors to connect job seekers to in-demand careers.

Episode Guest List:

Paul GrzellaPaul Grzella is Interim Director of the Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board, serving Hunterdon and Somerset Counties in New Jersey. An active community volunteer, Mr. Grzella has served on the board of the Somerset County United Way and the Local Operating Board for the United Way of Northern New Jersey. He also serves on the board of the Somerset County Business Partnership, Hunterdon County Chamber of Commerce, and Healthier Somerset, and has been active with EmPOWer Somerset and the Middlesex County Healthy Communities Coalition.

Previously, Mr. Grzella served as general manager/editor of the Courier News, Home News Tribune, and In 2019 he was named the Somerset County Citizen of the Year.

Connect with Mr. Grzella on Linkedin.

Kirkland MurrayKirkland J. Murray is the President and CEO of Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, the administrator and operator of the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funded services and workforce initiatives for Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Named The Daily Record’s 2012 Most Influential Marylander in Civic Leadership, Murray currently serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the National Association of Workforce Development Professionals. He also serves as the President of the Workforce Investment Network for Maryland, and is a member of the Governor’s Workforce Development Board.

Connect with Mr. Murray on LinkedIn.

Walter SimmonsWalter Simmons, GCDF, is the founding President and CEO of Employ Prince George's, Inc., and serves as the Executive Director of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, Local Workforce Development Board, a dual role that ensures the continuity of the Prince George’s County Local Workforce Development Area. Mr. Simmons has extensive experience in workforce and economic development, serving in various roles in Prince George’s County, Washington, DC, and around the country. He previously served as Executive Director of Workforce Services for the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation and as American Job Center Manager for the DC Department of Employment Services.

Connect with Mr. Simmons on LinkedIn

Full Transcript of this episode:

Introduction:      Welcome to Talent Talks. Each month, human resources veteran Rick Maher welcomes America's thought leaders to discuss ways to reinvent America's talent development and education system. Tune in and discover how we can drive global competitiveness for future generations. Talent Talks is presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International, who together are delivering research and evidence-based solutions to workforce challenges. And now your host, Rick Maher.

Rick Maher:        Thanks for joining us today on Talent Talks as we explore the world of talent development with our nation's most prominent thought leaders on workforce and educational issues. Today's podcast continues our focus on local and regional leaders. Our guests work directly with system customers, both job seekers and employers. They execute on policy and turn it to practical application as they are particularly a special group, as they represent the first group of successful guarantees of the IMPAQ/Maher Training Fund. That fund was established to give something back to our home based system. So, they're focused in Maryland and in New Jersey where IMPAQ and Maher, respectively, are headquartered.

Rick Maher:        This discussion continues to feature what I call innovators in action, because these folks are not just talking about the future of workforce like me, they're actually creating it. So, welcome today's workforce innovators in action panel. Walter Simmons [inaudible 00:01:00] Director, Employ Prince George's, Inc., in Prince George's County, Maryland; Paul Grzella, Interim Director, Greater Raritan Workforce Development Board, serving Somerset and Hunterdon counties in New Jersey. And Kirkland Murray, President, CEO, Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, serving Anne Arundel County, Maryland. Folks, welcome to Talent Talks.

Rick Maher:        We've got a lot to cover here today and I want to be sure to get you all involved so we can learn from each of your experiences. So, let's just dive right in. As you know, the IMPAQ/Maher Training Fund was designed to provide grants to local boards and intermediaries to prepare job seekers for post-secondary training and education leading to good jobs in growth sectors. Again, I want to start by congratulating you all on your successful applications. And really, I wonder if you could start by briefly just telling our listeners why you decided to apply for the grant, and I'll go north to south. So, Paul and Greater Raritan, go ahead and tell us quickly why and I know that you guys have grant opportunities popping up all over. Why did you decide to go for this one? Paul.

Paul Grzella:       Well, for a number of years, and I would say probably four or five years, the board has been talking about looking at other funding streams besides our traditional grants.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Paul G.:                To fund what we think are key works and key efforts in our workforce system. And when we saw this opportunity, we just jumped at it as a way to see, well, maybe this is a way to test our capacity to do this in a relatively small Workforce Development Board. Can we work with our partners to get this done to achieve our strategic goals?

Rick Maher:        Yeah. And we were talking before we started, Paul, it's just stunning to me. Here we are on the fourth industrial revolution, worried about workforce disruption by new technologies, and people like you have to spend so much of your day out there trying to find sources of new funding, because funding is very tight! So, interesting that your board is making a strategic decision to do that. I suspect more and more boards are. Walter, how about you guys? Down in Prince George's County, why this grant?

Walter Simmons:              Well, pretty sure this county has a diverse population and a large disconnected population, and a lot of immigrants returning citizens. So, we wanted to use this money to venture away from the traditional federal funding, and be able to pilot some opportunities to engage some disconnected populations, hard to serve populations, to increase our capacity of our system. And ensure that everybody in Prince George's County has access to a livable wage job and a career.

Rick Maher:        So, for you the attraction was getting away from the restrictions tied to federal money, yeah?

Walter S.:            Exactly. We want to get away from the federal restrictions to be able to serve job seekers in need and then provide services that will help them move forward and not have to provide services that align with a federal law that sometimes don't really allow for a job seeker with severe barriers or disconnected population to advance.

Rick Maher:        Interesting. And last of all, Kirk, and by the way, let me mention you guys in Maryland, as you know, when the application went out, we were going to be picking one grant in each state. And your two applications I think were so compelling that Avi Benus, IMPAQ's CEO, added a third grant award. So, there's two of you down there. I guess they couldn't get, I guess you tied is what it came down to. So, it's great to have both of you on board. Kirk, why this grant? Why did you decide to go after this in Anne Arundel?

Kirkland Murray:              I mean for exactly the same reasons that both Paul and Walter talked about; we've always looked at how do we diversify our funding, so we're not restrained by just the federal grants. And then with the cut in federal grants, we always have to look at innovative ways to get additional funding to make sure they were servicing both our businesses and our job seekers. This grant allowed us to really test our model of being in demand, driven, and working with our sector partnership to work with businesses to identify a challenge in the industry that they have, and how do we come up with an innovative solution to address that challenge. So, that flexibility of this grant and allowing us to be responsive to our businesses was very important and very attractive to us. So, we want to thank you guys for the opportunity.

Rick Maher:        Well, we appreciate the partnership and we're looking forward to the outcomes you guys are going to produce; all three of you had amazing proposals. I was part of the panel that reviewed them and I was really encouraged by what I saw you guys setting out to do. And it was so interesting how you all are working in different sectors. To me that really reflects how boards need to focus on regional economies and local issues, in growth sectors that show the best potential in their own communities to help their communities prosper.

Rick Maher:        So, I'd like to get our listeners just a brief flavor from each of you, on the highlights of your project and your grant proposal. They're so diverse and different, really reflecting the differences in your communities, I think. So, Walter, you guys in Prince George's County and now I get some insight just based on your first answer here. You're focused on expanding your industry bridge programs to the English Language Learners group. Why is this so important to your mission and your region? And what outcomes are you kind of after by focusing on that ELL population?

Walter S.:            Yes, Rick. Our board identified 13 in-demand industries through our state of the workforce report. After we identified our in-demand industries, we launched about five sector programs that are led by businesses, which we've branded as those industry bridge programs. One of those that we identified was the sustainable energy and utilities industry, which is one of the highest paying industries in our region. But, well the region is 90%, our county is 90% minority.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            And 20% of our households are English second language households.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            That industry only had about 15% minorities. So, it's indicative to say that the residents are not involved in that industry. So, we saw this as an opportunity with a lot of federal contracting with Prince George's County bordering DC on three sides and the federal government requiring some minority incentives for businesses.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            This would be a great opportunity to help businesses meet the needs of hiring minorities and then helping English language learners who traditionally have higher unemployment and lower wages, gain access to the highest paying industry in our region. And locally we say that, "We have three customers: the business, the job seeker, and then our community." This funding source allows us to utilize our industry sector program to meet the needs of each of our customers.

Rick Maher:        Yeah, that's interesting. Walter, I've never heard anybody express the three customer thing. I'm old enough to remember when we were fighting with people to buy into the fact that we have two customers, right? Because back in the day, everybody saw our only customers, the job seeker, and I love that. I love the idea of having the community being another customer, keeps your focus on the data that drives community prosperity. And it's interesting how your grant proposal kind of leveraged all three legs of that stool, if you will. That's kind of cool. Paul, let's turn over here to New Jersey, my home state. And your focus is on occupational readiness training, welders I think specifically. Tell us a bit about why that's important for you guys in your regional economy.

Paul G.:                Well, one of the things that we're trying to focus on is sustainable career tracks. Certainly we know that there's a lot of growth in the hotel industry here, but those aren't going to be high-paying jobs, particularly in our county that has two counties that have very high cost of living. So, welders to us is showing that, if we can get a welder started on an at least $18 an hour job, that has health benefits, we're going to be way ahead of the game for our job seekers. We also know that it's an in-demand job among manufacturers through working with our business reps.

Paul G.:                We know that we already have several people who are looking for welders and our county college, which is housing the Workforce Training Center, previously had a program where they had 12 welders in the program and nine of them finished the program, and there were jobs waiting for them. It just seems like this should be something that would be a win both for our employers and for our job seekers. So, that we've hit as it start, they get an industry ready certificate and it starts from what could be a very successful career pathway.

Rick Maher:        Interesting. And if people are focused on all these fancy careers in white collar careers in here we see a traditional career where we just can't build them fast enough. We can't create welders fast enough right to meet the demand. So-

Paul G.:                And then one thing I wanted to add too, I talked to several of the people who decided to go into the program that we're offering. Several of them have, or they're knitting together, two or three jobs; some of them where they're getting current minimum wage. New Jersey, of course, is what raised it. It just showed me that yes, this is the right thing. This can really help people transition.

Rick Maher:        Interesting. Well that's great. Fantastic. And Kirk, you're applying the grant funds to something called the Patient Care Technician Pipeline Program. What is that? It just sounds so cool. What is that program and why did you choose to focus on that?

Kirkland M.:        Very well, thank you. Yeah, this grant and this program allows us the opportunity to do two things. One, for us to be responsive to our businesses and to come up with an innovative solution to a challenge that they had. CNAs [Certified Nursing Assistants] are, as most people know, our entry point jobs in health care, but they're jobs that are usually low wage and have high turnover. So, we worked with our sector partnership and health care to kind of find out what is the way that we can, not only take an individual, start them into a career, but advance to some upper career. So, that's what this program is designed to do.

Kirkland M.:        So, it takes current CNAs after they'd been CNA for about a year, usually that time frame when they start burning out and the businesses are starting to see turnover. How do we advance them to the next level, which is the Patient Care Tech? That is a more advanced, high-skill job and usually the first job in a hospital for CNAs and GNAs, as they are usually working for health care facility or long-term care facilities. This starts them on a career pathway at a hospital that then leads to so many more opportunities.

Rick Maher:        That's great! And I love the idea that that was an existing program for you. And I just love by listening to all three of you that I think that it gives our listeners an idea of how the priorities are tailored to local needs in each of these regional economies, and how varied those needs are in different local areas. And sometimes even within the same state. Some of this is very sector focused, others like maybe ELL and the welding project have potential across sectors and maybe can help multiple sectors.

Rick Maher:        But in each case, I think all of you mentioned it, you're working with employer partners, which I love and obviously is important to getting anything done. And that means you had to have employers bought in. I would love to just expand a little bit on that idea. Can you speak about how each of you got employers involved, and what if any commitments, those employers have made to you as part of your partnership with them? And it will reverse the order. And Kirk, I'll start with you again and then work our way back up to New Jersey. How did you get employers bought in, Kirk? And what deal did they make with you? Did they make a commitment of any sort to the partnership that helped you drive outcomes here?

Kirkland M.:        Well, yes. I mean all this started with our local board. So, we strategically send a local board up to represent the five high-growth industries in and around the county. We call it HITCH- it stands for, Health Care, IT, Transportation, Construction, and Hospitality. So, our board members are the main conveners of this. They're the subject matter experts. They are the champion that we look forward to get other businesses involved. And what we start with is just a round table to identify what some of the challenges are. From that we have several of the businesses that attend the round tables then say, "Yeah, we want to dive deeper into finding innovative solutions." So, we let the businesses drive the conversation. Workforce is the facilitator of this. We have all of our partners, the community college, public school system, department social services, all sitting around the table...I'm more in the audience listening.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Kirkland M.:        And then we help the businesses come up with a solution. Then what AAWDC's role is is doing things like what we were able to do with this grant money, go out and find the fund to implement those solutions. So, in this particular project, again, it was the businesses, they identified that they have high turnover in this job, they need a pipeline of people. So, what the solution was that we would go out and find CNAs, people who are already CNAs, help them get the skills to move to that patient care. What the business's role was in this, was helping us identify what type of candidates they would be looking for. So, our staff worked with the businesses to learn how to screen candidates. The businesses were also very intimately involved in the training curriculum, that's something different. Traditionally you're trained providers, they say, "Well this is our curriculum." What we did is we work with and around the community college they had an existing curriculum. They brought that curriculum to the businesses. The businesses do that curriculum-

Rick Maher:        Love it.

Kirkland M.:        And said, yep. It's the only way to do it. They said that, "Yes we need this part. No, you don't need this part. We would like for them to have more of this." So, the businesses vet it and recreate the curriculum. And then the only guarantee that the business has got, gave us work that if we find the right candidates, they complete the training, they would definitely be willing to look at them and consider them for hiring. Or consider them for a work-and-learn opportunity before hiring. So, all of the businesses have been committed to this and have kept their word to doing that. So, they've been great partners and there's no way you can do this without the partners of having good businesses that are willing to be invested in this.

Rick Maher:        You know, and the point that I'm hearing when I hear you talk, I mean, they agreed and committed to looking at people and they make a commitment to hire people. But, look at what you've done here and I know you're smart enough to get it, but for the benefit of our listeners, you worked with the employers to define what criteria you use to screen applicants. You worked with the-

Kirkland M.:        Exactly.

Rick Maher:        Employer to define the actual skills and the curriculum that those prospects would go through. So, it just stands to reason that you're going to wind up delivering the kind of person they're likely to hire, right? Because there's an old saying, an old proverb, “If you want to go far, go with a team. If you want to just go short distance, go alone.” But by making the employers your partners in defining the screening criteria and defining the curriculum, you've really upped the prospects for them being willing to hire somebody at the out at the end of that pipeline. Does that make sense, Kirk?

Kirkland M.:        It does. I mean you need three elements. You need the demand and we had the businesses say that there is a demand for open positions, there's a need for these open positions. You need to make sure you had the right candidates that businesses would look to hire. So, we work with business down to saying what their screening process was. And then you need the businesses to buy into the training, you need to make sure that the training is in line with the needs of businesses, not just something off the shelf. So, I think if you invest in sector partnerships and you get those businesses engaged to do those three things, you have a win-win situation here. You're meeting their demand, you provide them a better candidate, and they’re hiring that candidate. And then businesses see the value, because that's one of the things we always got to talk about is the value of working with the public workforce system.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Kirkland M.:        And when you provide them those things, then they see the value and they know that you're a reliable resource for them.

Rick Maher:        Sounds like a true partnership. Awesome. Well done. Walter, let's go over to you. How did you get employers bought in? And I think you actually gave us a couple of hands on this in your first couple of answers, but dive into that employer relationship. How did you engage them? What if any kind of commitments that they made to you and your program?

Walter S.:            So, similar to Kirk, and as I referenced earlier, we started the sector-specific programs that we branded as industry bridge programs.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            Each program is led by a Business Advisory Council that meets quarterly. And we actually have, and again, like Kirk, we have all the workforce partners around the table, but it's led by business. So, there's two co-chairs for each council that represent businesses in the industry. And we focused on health care, energy, IT, construction, and hospitality and accommodation. And we actually have our businesses sign an MOU that says they commit to attending quarterly meetings, reviewing curricula processes, and also partnering to participate in trainings and not guarantee a hire but to interview or assess people who complete the programs. Similar to Kirk, every curriculum that is approved under our industry bridge program has to be approved by that business advisory council.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            So, we might take our local community college's 37 page curricula, our staff convert it into a five-page summary and then we actually asked our Workforce Board, our business services committee, to assess what are the areas in curriculum that you want to see. And that's how we created that download. And then the businesses just review those five pages. And then we review that curricula every one to two years to make sure that it is still meeting the industry needs. And basically through that piece, what we're doing is creating brand recognition across the industry. So, when an HR director, an operations, or VP knows the Sustainable Energy Workforce Development program, which is what we received the funding, through IMPAQ and this round of funding, when that energy auditor or that solar panel installer applies for a job at a local employer, and the employer says, "Oh, I know this program because I actually approved this curriculum. I know it's a good program."

Walter S.:            It basically puts our job seekers and our graduates ahead of everybody else that's not going through the door because the employer has already vetted that curriculum. The employer knows it. The employer has already formed a relationship with a training provider and Employ Prince George's. And so they feel comfortable. So, our goal is basically to do this, to have almost about 200 courses in our region vetted, approved, and stamped by the businesses on our business advisory council. And really ensure that they feel comfortable and know that these programs are certified by them. The next step: We've been working with some of our partners on some licensing agreements to actually add their logos to these curriculums, as a way to market to job seekers. So that the job seekers can see the University of Maryland Health System. They can see a Pepco or an Exelon company or they can see MGM National Harbor actually on this hospitality curriculum. And so that way, as I mentioned, marketing to, meeting the needs of our three customers - the community, the business, and the job seeker.

Walter S.:            The businesses now know from K-12 through community college and even we have the University of Maryland on our board that the curriculums and trainings provided meet their needs. Job seekers can now actually see the major businesses that they want to work for, have their logos on these curriculums. And then from a community standpoint, it's that total represent government, representative nonprofits, making sure everybody has a voice at the table, making sure that everybody's included. Including our disability programs that are a part of our health care industry bridge program. And another piece that is, Rick, like Kirk mentioned, when our funding sources are being decreased. The reason why the community is a customer becomes important, because we go back out to these community foundations and even our private sector business foundations and we ask them for funding. They're a part of the program that we're asking for funding. It's an easier conversation than pitching a brand new program.

Rick Maher:        Absolutely, Walter, it makes so much sense and I said it wrong before; it's, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with a team.” And that's exactly what you're exhibiting to here, right? By making them a true partner, I mean down to putting their brand on your work product. I love the idea of the MOU because it's essentially putting in writing the expectations you have of each other. And I love that, because sometimes in long projects people get short memories, so it's good to be able to point back to the MOU and say, "Remember, we said we're going to do these quarterly meetings. Remember we said you are going to be involved in helping us with the training curriculum." I love it. And it just shows me that you've got a lot, all the right elements of strong partnerships involved in this grant and that really well done. Awesome.

Walter S.:            But Rick, one of the things along with that MOU that I tell my staff and even Kirk mentioned it, is this, it's more than just the MOU, that's just a process, a piece of paper.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            I tell our staff, "What is the return on the investment by the employer?" We're consistently reviewing the agendas and content in these quarterly meetings. How many times have you talked about the subject before you're producing a product for the business? Business is only going to attend those as long as they see something out of it.

Rick Maher:        Absolutely.

Walter S.:            So, the MOU is more for efficiency when applying for grants because we already have these ready-made agreements that we can stamp onto a grant to show that we have 30 partners.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            But the true testimony is the return on investment. And recently with our IT program, one of our federal grants went away and we received about a $20,000 donation from a local business to keep the program funding. And that's when our staff really, really began to see how important and the return on investment to that business was worth them making a $20,000 contribution to keep that program sustainable.

Rick Maher:        Yeah. And again, I see them more and more and I love that you took the time to mention that people need to get, employers are really in a world of hurt. They need top talent. As Kirk was saying, they don't just need a hire, now they need pipelines created, and you guys are demonstrating true public-private partnerships. And I can tell you and as you just did, businesses will pay! Once you've demonstrated your ability to deliver, they will pay. They'll pay both in terms of their own in kind contributions such as contributing to training but also in pure hard cash. So, that's a great story, Walter. Thanks for sharing that. Paul, tough act to follow, buddy. But let's go up to Jersey.

Paul G.:                Yeah.

Rick Maher:        How'd you engage your employers in this and what if any kinds of commitments that they've been making to, it sounds like you're in a really hot demand areas, so I suspect employers are maybe easier to bring to the table, I don't know. Tell us how you got them engaged.

Paul G.:                Well, one of the reasons we focused on this is that there was already an existing partnership at our Workforce Training Center at our community college. And some of these employers, the community college has several partnerships like this. Where they're bringing in employers as part of their class training programs. So, they're kind of doing what you all have been talking about, trying to make sure that employers are helping inform what they're teaching, so that the players know that at the end product is going to be a valuable, that then they're going to have skills that they can immediately use and put to use and grow on. So, we're trying to keep that in mind with everything that we do with all of our credentialing.

Paul G.:                But as you all were talking, I was thinking we're really trying more and more to make sure that all of our touch points in the Workforce System are used effectively and that we connect together. So for example, with our business representatives who are really top notch, they were mentioned to us that one of their employers approached them for a job fair and a manufacturing trade and he is going to work with them to create a job fair just in the manufacturing trade. And I think we're looking at five different manufacturing trades that coincide with some of the programs that are community college and some of our other training providers.

Paul G.:                So that we can really connect these students and try to set up a pipeline right away, even as they're in their programs, we know what our community, what are employers, and these trades are looking for. And we can have a much more robust connection that allows our students to quickly get employed. So, that it becomes as seamless as possible. And that we're not missing any points that I think in the past maybe we've had some missed opportunities and we're really trying to jump on that. We have a really good system. We just need to make sure that all of those silos are broken down and are working as efficiently as possible to get people good paying jobs quickly. And the right paying jobs that are needed, now.

Rick Maher:        Yeah. And you know what, it’s true, it is not easy to break down these silos. And I'd want to just give kudos to you and frankly to Walter and Kirk, too. The fact that the community colleges are working with you so well on allowing business to shape curriculum. I've spent a little time around this issue and that's not always easy for faculty in the community college to let go of the control like that. So, you guys are doing a great job and kudos to them for coming in and recognizing the need to allow business to help them shape what they're teaching in the classroom. It makes things more relevant, you share power, you get buy in, you build trust with employers. So, that's all good stuff.

Rick Maher:        And I think it's noteworthy, Paul, you mentioned an existing program, but I think it's true of all three of you, you're working with programs that were already up and running prior to the grant application. And, and to us that meant something because we felt more likely that you are going to produce good outcomes, which was important to IMPAQ/Maher as we looked at your applications. But I'm curious, with you guys, what did working with existing programs as opposed to a new initiative, what did having these additional grant funds do for you? Why did you decide to focus on existing programs and how are you using these funds to extend them? Walter, how about I start with you and we'll move around below?

Walter S.:            You know, I think, when you're talking about a lot of times when you're working with grants and programs, funders don't want to fund new programs. They want to fund existing programs that build capacity. If you're a workforce board that is dealing with consistently decreasing funding streams, that's kind of been a trend on our session today. You have to balance that. And with the funds that we received, we actually funded one of our existing industry bridge programs, sector programs. This funding really helps us open the door to serving one of the hardest populations of job seekers in the country. It opens the door for us to do this in multiple ways.

Walter S.:            One, we're going to use part of the funding to engage a local community-based organization that already has a relationship with this population in the current climate, a lot of English as a second language learners, immigrants, regardless if they're a legal resident or illegal resident, they don't want to engage with local government for the fear of being profiled or being jailed and held just because they could appear to be an illegal immigrant. And what happens in that community is that a lot of time they work hourly jobs. So, even if they're detained for six hours, that could be $100-

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            That they lose, that they depend on to put food on the table. So, this funding is going to allow us to bridge the gap in engaging this subset population within our region. It also allows us to launch a cohort of training for the subset population that we can then take back to our Workforce Board, to our county government, our state government, to show the success, show some of the areas where we needed additional assistance. And shows some of the areas where there's additional opportunity to say, "This is a population that you shouldn't ignore when you're allocating funding, or when creating policy." So, it opens that door.

Walter S.:            And then lastly, this is going allow us to focus on a lot of our immigrant and English second language learner populations living in the same area, which is common across the country. This allows us to really immerse ourselves into this community and this region of our county, and to provide an access point for opportunity, for this organization. So, for our organization in that community, so that this funding level is really helping us expand and build our capacity. But the long-term ramifications of the benefit of this funding could lead not only to a cohort or training, but could lead to us open the doors for hundreds of people to get training and policy changes and also leverage this initial investment by IMPAQ to create a revenue stream for this population that could exceed $1 million. It expands capacity and then opens the door for opportunity from a policy, a program, and a funding standpoint.

Rick Maher:        It's so interesting and you see the climate at a high level, but to hear you speak about how it affects people and your ability to connect with people, immigrant populations in particular, is very interesting and so glad that this opened that door to another relationship with that CBO [community-based organization] that will no doubt exist beyond the life of the grant. That's very cool. Paul, you kind of, I think address this issue in an earlier answer, but again, you did say you're working with an existing program and is it just the additional funds get you the capacity to extend it to more people than you would have been able to otherwise get to in terms of the number of students who can enroll?

Paul G.:                I think that's part of it, but certainly was an experiment for us because, as I said, we haven't done anything like this before. So, it was a good test for us to see what works and what else as we go forward and look for other funding streams that we should do better when we're no longer working just with a federal funds but with private grantors, like IMPAQ. But the other kind of almost as a best practice for me, because certainly under the federal legislation, we could redirect some of our funds to similar programs, apprenticeship programs in particular, that maybe this is a different way to extend some of our funds more effectively and really target, in a targeted way. And that's kind of our effect, we just had a board discussion about this yesterday and that's what we're thinking as we prepare for our new budget. Let’s use the power of the Innovation Act to be innovative ourselves.

Rick Maher:        Yeah, now and you have to be. As you guys have all kind of pointed out here, I mean, we're facing a real challenging time and workforce development with increasingly challenged federal funding levels, right? So, I know IMPAQ, when we put this out, we discussed it internally and we really wanted to try to make these grant funds as flexible as we could because we know that there's so many restrictions on some of these program funds. It must make the head hurt at times, guys. So, very interesting, Paul. And lastly, but not least, Kirk, an existing program, what did these funds do for you with your pipeline project?

Kirkland M.:        No, exactly. I mean I think it's everything that Walter and Paul and yourself had mentioned. I mean with the decrease in federal funds and more restrictions on what you have to use federal funds for and we just like to have that flexibility to go and use non-traditional dollars to do programs like this. Especially when you're working with businesses. The other side of is that federal funds, have a lot of restrictions on them. When you're working with the business and when you're really partner with the business and you're using businesses to help you identify candidates of, a business comes to you and say, "This is the type of person that I want to hire. If they get these skills." But then you put them through the process and for one reason or another they don't qualify for what we are funding. Then you say, "Well, sorry, you missed the business." Even though this is the ideal candidate you want, we can't service them.

Rick Maher:        Yeah, exactly.

Kirkland M.:        And that's something we didn't want to have. So, being able to have non-federal funds allows us to do this. Also we have strategically said that our federal funds that we do have, we want to do exactly what Paul said. We want to be innovative, we wouldn't look at how do we do other innovative things like apprenticeships and different things like that. But here in Anne Arundel County with 3.2% unemployment and over 14,000 job openings, we're looking at how do we get nontraditional people who come-

Rick Maher:        Absolutely.

Kirkland M.:        To development centers to work with. And that's where we're using our federal funds really for up scaling, working with the working poor. And how do we help them to advance up a career pathway and address those barriers. And that's a good way that we use our federal funds for. So, a lot of our industry initiatives, we're looking for additional funding. Walter and I, we are both blessed to be in the state of Maryland, when Maryland they're investing state general funds in their Employment Advancement Right Now (EARN) program. The EARN program that is sector based would allow us to do this. We do have that option to go for those funds, but I'll be honest with you, Rick, we applied for that grant, that EARN grant through the state for this program. They turned us down because they had so many applications out there, especially in health care. So, that's why we had this program ready to go when this IMPAQ opportunity came up. So-

Rick Maher:        Perfect.

Kirkland M.:        Again, it allows us to do what we do best to work with our business, to be flexible and make sure that we're helping our job seekers advance on a career pathway.

Rick Maher:        That's awesome. And no harm, no foul. Good. I mean I'm glad you were able to dust it off and go into Word and change the applicant's name or whatever, and that's great. Bottom line is we want to help you get people to work and grow careers and if that's what you're able to do, that's cool with us. Guys, I love the fact that all of you are working with existing programs where you have a proven ability to produce outcomes and this funding, either because it doesn't attach itself to those kinds of restrictions that other program funding does, or just because it's more money and you're able to up a class size by increasing an x numbers of folks to your projects.

Rick Maher:        I love the fact that it's working for you and helping you to work for your communities. And I also love the diversity of your grant projects and how each of those projects, very different, are attacking real local needs in your workforce and demand supply side in your regional economies. But we flirted with this topic of the coming age, the idea called the age of disruption, right? The so-called fourth industrial revolution. And what impact will machine learning and AI and 3D printing and autonomous vehicles and all of the coming boom in technology, what impact is that likely to have on the workforce development system of the future? And while I know it's important and we're proud to be supporting you, dealing with these very practical projects that are in demand and in need today, I'm curious whether any of you and your boards have started to focus on the dynamic question of the future of work and how it's likely to disrupt workforces in your regions and what, if anything, you're starting to do in planning for that and whether you've considered how it might change future priority.

Rick Maher:        So that's a big, long-winded topic, but I wanted to end this discussion by at least turning our attention to the future and wonder if any of you could share what discussions are starting to happen at your level on the future of work, and how that might change your priorities going forward. So, Walter, why don't I start with you and then we'll move around the table quickly. What are you guys doing? Is there a dialogue that's started now at your board level about the future of work and how is that shaping what you're thinking right now?

Walter S.:            Rick? I was chomping at this question. I'm actually one of the people that think, the workforce arena and community gets too far ahead of themselves. We get too far ahead of our funding streams, we get too far ahead of our funders. The future of work is coming, but is it going to come, is it going to come in the next three, four, or five years?

Rick Maher:        Never.

Walter S.:            No, it's not. And if you're engaged in a workforce board on a quarterly basis or on a monthly basis, how much time are you realistically planning for seven years down the road? I just don't think it's realistic or are of that good use of time. What I do think is how is the future of work going to affect the future workforce system? And I think that is a current conversation. I think when you look at the National Workforce Fund, with the health care systems and the focus on incumbent worker training, that is something that's traditionally been seen as an ancillary piece of the workforce system or a piece that's like you can allocate 20%. The future of the workforce system aligned with the future of work means that more businesses are going to need to invest in filling those hard-to-serve positions like Kirk's patient care technicians, with people who are already into their system. So, therefore you could see a workforce system that needs to allocate 50% of their funds to low-wage workers. That also aligns with the income gaps that are continuously increasing in this country of people being basically the working poor. And how do we upskill people? But they're working 40 hours a week already.

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Walter S.:            So, I think those are the type of questions. And also as our economy, I have a 4% unemployment rate, Kirk mentioned 3.2. We have consistently decreasing funding. What does the future of the workforce system look like for our workers and our industry? We're rolling out kiosk and workstations next week, because we had an 18% decrease in funding and a 33% increase in traffic flow. So, we want to figure out how we can serve as many people virtually as possible and leave the staff interaction of our workforce system to the job seekers where there are most in need.

Walter S.:            A second piece with the future of the workforce system is cross-industry occupations. Yes, there will be automation. Yes, there will be more virtual technology, but every industry in the country will need IT. So, but what does the hospitality IT person look like versus a cybersecurity defense contractor look like? These are the conversations that I think the actual talent and the actual occupation isn't going to be massively changed over the next three years. But I think how I work for system builds the capacity to meet the need of the future, levels of work is going to be key for us to assess.

Rick Maher:        Yeah. Awesome. And nobody has the right answer here, but the fact that this conversation is happening is a hopeful sign to me. I think that's cool. Kirk, let me go over to you. What about Anne Arundel? What attention are you guys paying to the future of work as that entering your work day to day operations?

Kirkland M.:        I agree 100% with my colleague, Walter, that you have to really balance how much time do you spend on this at a board level versus what you have to deal with right here, right now. But through our sector partnerships, we always ask that question, "What is the future?" What our sector partnerships are designed to do is to build a pipeline, not to only meet current needs, but future needs. So, we always are asking our businesses, what changes are you seeing coming in your industry? What does this mean about the skill that you're looking for? What occupations are growing? What occupations are decreasing, and what do we need to do to be responsive to that? So, we're always having that conversation. The other thing is that we're looking at what's right in front of us. What is that two to three years? I mean, we know you talked about the autonomous vehicles, now and around the county is the epicenter for cybersecurity. And so we're in, when you're dealing with autonomous vehicles and that whole grid system of lights and everything talking,

Rick Maher:        Yeah.

Kirkland M.:        That's cybersecurity. So, we've switched from the DOD side of cybersecurity more to that side of the cybersecurity and looking at that. And working with, instead of working with DOD, we're working more with the Department of Transportation and what are those needs and what are the skills that are either going to happen. We know that as jobs are, as we do more automation and move to robots, we're going to need to take people that can fix those, that new technology and to be able to program that new technology. So, we're looking at this, but right now what our big focus is, is how do we help the 33,000 people in Anne Arundel County that are living in poverty. How do we help to get them on a career pathway and then the other 27% of our residents that are the working poor, how do we help them move on a career pathway?

Rick Maher:        Yeah. And again, pragmatic, practical thinking and I agree with both of you, it's hard to stay focused on the future of work when you have so many critical issues in front of you now. And listening to Walter, 18% reduction, 30% increase in customer flow means you got to be more efficient and service delivery. But then Kirk, I think the important contribution you just made is, this is why sector partnerships are so important. And to me, sector-based workforce development is kind of the key of the future of work too, meaning those sector partners are the ones that should be talking to you and giving you insights on how they see things shaping up in their industries.

Rick Maher:        And just the insight that cybersecurity is linked to autonomous vehicles makes complete sense. Yet I never even considered it before hearing you say it, right? And I'm sure that came out of as good sector, healthy, good sector, discussion. So, really insightful and important. So, you got to one on me on the ball of current need and performance measures, but keep your ears open and use your sector partnerships to start to inform you about how it's going to shape and change the work they're going to need you to do in the future. Very, very interesting. Paul, let's turn it back to you then, here in Jersey. What conversations are starting to happen or that shape your thinking around the future of work, if any?

Paul G.:                I have a perfect segue for you. Last week, myself and another team member attended at the Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Rick Maher:        Yes, I saw it.

Paul G.:                And then it was investing in opportunities to create good jobs as a topic. And one of the presenters was Alistair Fitzpayne from the Aspen Institute, who talked about the future of work. And if the listeners want to go onto to see what he talked about, there is an excellent PowerPoint that you can find on, and click on the investment and opportunities, to create good jobs. We’re giving this PowerPoint as a thought piece to our board members. Kind of to everyone's point. It's something that should be in the back of our minds and kind of undergirds what we're thinking about.

Paul G.:                It's not immediate, but it should be part of our overall and information that helps us be strategic about here are what the trends are, here or what our employers are telling us. Here is what the state data is telling us, here's what our job seekers want and need, or what they're missing. What are the top demands skills that our employers need? And we use all of this material, this rich resource of material, to make some smart strategic decisions about how we're going to invest our dollars to keep what we've all been talking about. Making sure that everybody has a sustainable career in a well-paying job.

Rick Maher:        Yeah, that's awesome. And I love the fact that you turned the earlier conversation and just said with Kirk a little bit on its head, in that in Kirk's point it was like listen to the sectors and the sectors will set you free, right? They'll give you an insight as to where things are heading and it's absolutely true and I love it. What I find in your comment that's cool is you're also seeing it as a way that you can add value by informing your sector partnerships with things like the presentation you saw at the Heldrich center. So, that's a true partnership, I mean, we can inform and be informed and I love it-

Paul G.:                Exactly.

Rick Maher:        I love it. Yeah. And you know what? Look I wish I had more time with the three of you. You guys are doing great work. Yeah. Your regional strategies are so fundamental to effective workforce development. And I know that our audience is going to take something valuable away from this conversation. Each of you had successful programs already. So, the addition of these grant funds we hope can just help you increase your reach and maybe gain a few better outcomes for those you serve all of us here at IMPAQ and Maher, thank you for your participation and your partnership. And we wish you the best of luck as you proceed and not only in these grants but in the work that you do every day. I want to again thank you for your time. And I'm imagining our listeners might want to stay in touch and learn more about your work and track your progress. If they'd like to connect or network with you, how might they best do that? Kirk want start with you. How would people stay connected to what you're doing?

Kirkland M.:        Well, thank you Rick, and thank you for allowing me the opportunity to participate today. So, the best way to reach me is through email at, or you can always visit our website,

Rick Maher:        Awesome. I'm sure you're going to find a new follower, too, Kirk. Walter, how about you? How do we stay in touch, your progress over at Prince George's County?

Walter S.:            Well, my email's too long, so I'll say you can visit us at, that's, And you can find me on all of our social media outlets at Walter Simmons, that's two M's, S-I-M-M-O-N-S, and all of our social media platforms are Employ PG, that's E-M-P-L-O-Y-P-G. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter. So, either our website or social media where you can always access and get a pretty fast response.

Rick Maher:        Thanks buddy. Appreciate that. And Paul finally if we want to follow you up at Greater Raritan, how would we do that?

Paul G.:                You can follow me on LinkedIn, It's Paul Grzella, G-R-Z-E-L-L-A. Connect with us on our website at or follow us on Twitter. You feel free to call me, my phone number's there. And also our business service specialist, Aubrey Flanagan, is an expert in this and is willing to help when I'm not around.

Rick Maher:        That's great guys. And I know some people are going to want to follow and to our listeners, if you're driving or on a treadmill and you don't have a handy pencil and paper, check the website, on Talent Talks where this podcast is launched and you'll see bios and contact information for our three guests there as well. And again, guys, I want to thank you for your time and talent and to our listeners, let me say that until the next time at Talent Talks, this is Rick Maher thanking you again for listening.

Rick Maher:        And reminding you that Talent Talks is about helping you to explore and form and hopefully to inspire you because we're all actors in a global war for talent. One where talent is seen as the new global currency and you are America's talent investment bankers. So, we hope we've inspired you to take a risk, make a difference. We hope you'll dare to be great, break something, make it better, try and fail, but for God's sakes, fail fast and try again. Thanks again for listening and have a great day. We'll see you next month on Talent Talks.

Moderator:         Thank you for listening to Talent Talks presented by Maher & Maher and IMPAQ International. For more information on what is being done to position America's workers, employers, and communities for future prosperity, sign up for our newsletter at That's

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