Employers need skilled workers to fill open jobs. Yet some workers face barriers to employment, even as the national unemployment rate dips to its lowest level in nearly two decades. These workers might face such challenges as a lack of skills, gaps in employment, or previous involvement in the criminal justice system.
Workforce development programs can help these workers overcome barriers to employment, helping them become a valuable resource to employers. Community-based organizations (CBOs) rooted in local communities and neighborhoods strive to engage employers and build trusting relationships with them to help workers get jobs and succeed at work while ensuring that employment programs meet employer needs.
CBOs face challenges engaging with employers, but they can be overcome
CBOs serving people with barriers to work face challenges in engaging employers. Employers are often wary of working with these groups or might perceive these organizations as working with less desirable employees. Persistent discrimination in hiring practices can make it even more difficult to help participants with these characteristics or backgrounds secure employment.
This report highlights promising approaches and strategies CBOs can use to engage with employers. The findings are based on the experiences of three grantees under JPMorgan Chase’s New Skills at Work initiative: Cara Chicago, Henry Street Settlement, and Community Learning Center Inc.
Strategies CBOs use to engage with employers
Several themes emerged from our conversations with program staff, partner organizations, and employers regarding their approaches to employer engagement:
- Carefully select and target employer partners. An intentional approach to identifying and selecting partners is important for assisting participants with significant barriers to employment. When prospecting, CBOs can look for employers that meet certain criteria, such as being community minded and having the desire to invest in workers.
- Ensure service delivery reflects a strong knowledge of employer and job seeker needs. The organizations we visited talked about the intensive work they do to understand employer and job seeker needs and then design services to meet those needs. Staff said aligning and customizing “concierge-level” services was key to effectively engaging employers.
- Build trusting relationships with employers by providing high-quality service and making good matches. CBOs assisting people with barriers to employment must make the best match. CBOs must learn the needs of job seekers and employers, make good matches between the two, and provide support to ensure matches are successful. Building trust with an employer is about high-quality service over time.
- Help employers get beyond stigma. One of the biggest barriers job seekers face is the stigma employers attach to particular groups or communities and the CBOs that serve them. To move beyond this stigma, CBOs can focus on the assets of job seekers, expose employers to job seekers in nonhiring settings, use transitional jobs to open up access, and advocate for specific participants.
- Leverage partnerships and community knowledge as an employer engagement strategy. CBOs used their knowledge of community and business needs to develop and strengthen their strategies for engaging employers. They seemed to understand the needs of their communities and employer partners and how to leverage partnerships to meet those needs.
This report adds to our knowledge base by identifying the employer engagement strategies and approaches used by community-based organizations assisting people with significant barriers to employment. The goal is to help CBOs identify and implement effective strategies and to inform public and private funders about such approaches. (Author abstract)