Interview with Steven C. Preston, President and CEO, Goodwill Industries International

With the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s 2020 Corporate Citizenship Conference, Business Solves, right around the corner, we sat down with one of our speakers, Steven C. Preston, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, to learn more about his organization’s efforts, how Goodwill® is supporting the needs of U.S. communities during the pandemic, and what advice he has for others.

Q1: The pandemic has put a strain on countless communities across the U.S. What are some of the most pressing issues facing individuals right now and how has Goodwill Industries been supporting them in this time of need?

Jobs. People need jobs. And, just as importantly, they need the skills to compete and advance in a rapidly changing job market. That’s where Goodwill comes in. 

Goodwill is North America’s largest workforce development provider. We work to understand each individual’s goals and needs, and then we support them throughout their journey with a continuum of services including skills training, career coaching, and job placement and navigation. In addition, transportation, childcare and stable housing are among the many things that a job seeker must secure to be successful. It is important to know who has been affected by the pandemic and what the implications are for them personally so that you can help them succeed through their journeys. 

We are particularly concerned that many jobs lost during the pandemic will never come back. During 2020, companies accelerated their adoption of technology, which lead to increased automation and changing labor needs. These changes require workers to have more specialized and different skill sets. 

At Goodwill, we provide people with training to learn more workforce readiness skills as well as hard skills like computer and digital literacy. Going beyond the basics, we offer training that leads to more specialized credentials for specific industries. In the last two and half years, more than a million people came to Goodwill to be introduced to or learn digital skills, which has led to promotions. 

During the pandemic, we have had to get creative. The use of Goodwill’s online training offering is skyrocketing as many people who are unemployed are taking this time to learn new skills from home. In addition, we have launched various forms of virtual support to supplement online learning, including virtual classes and career coaching.  

Supported by our partnership with Indeed.com, Goodwill is expanding online help for people building their résumés, learning how to present themselves effectively and finding employment. Goodwill organizations across the country are holding virtual job fairs, and even drive-through career fairs, so employers can meet candidates face-to-face while maintaining social distance and safety. 

Q2: This summer, Goodwill announced a partnership with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) to launch a new program that helps young adults find jobs after a period of incarceration. Can you tell us more about your work with the DOL?

Young adults represent a disproportionate percentage of people arrested and admitted to adult prisons, and they have higher recidivism rates. Reentry programs, like the Goodwill LifeLaunch: Ignite Reentry Program funded by the DOL, help young people alter the course of their lives.

People impacted by the justice system often experience compounding barriers and inequities over the course of their lives. They are more likely to have disabilities, lower education levels, history of poverty and limited work experience. When they return home from incarceration, the deck is stacked against them. They have limited cash, no job, often unstable housing, and limited support systems. A criminal record throws additional barriers in the way. It’s not surprising that the recidivism rate in the first year following incarceration is 44%.  

But with the right support, this can change. To change the trajectory of their lives, we need to respect the full extent of the challenges so we can provide relevant, effective support. Our reentry programs ensure that our participants get the skills and workplace training they need while also helping with foundational challenges and ensuring they reestablish themselves in their communities. Our career coaches help guide people through their journeys, and our employer relationships help people start off on the right track with a job.

It is disheartening to know that nine out of every 20 people will recidivate. But for the people in Goodwill’s DOL reentry programs, that number is one in 20. The other 19 move forward with their lives.

Much of what Goodwill does is to help level the playing field for those who face a steeper climb to find work, establish a career and build a better life. We work with people to see the possibilities in life, and provide them with the full support to make that a reality. 

Q3: Are you partnering with the private sector for this program or your larger efforts to help people build skills and grow their careers? What value do cross-sector partnerships bring to the success of your programs?

Partnerships are integral to our work. We work with other local service providers, employers, educational institutions and corporations to provide the continuum of support to people who use Goodwill’s services. These partnerships are especially important in our reentry work because we integrate a more extensive range of supports into those programs.

We see an increasing opportunity to work with the private sector across our operations, both because corporations have become more committed to supporting their communities in new and meaningful ways, and because we are becoming more creative in how we design effective partnerships.

Goodwill has a remarkable and far-reaching footprint, which provides us with access to people who need our support, deep relationships within our local communities, and real-world expertise. As a result of that reach, we can leverage the power of partnerships across our network.  

For example, the digital skills initiative I noted earlier was supported by Google with both funding and professional support. In collaboration with Google.org and Coursera, Goodwill is offering people training to earn specialized career certificates.  

Indeed.com is helping us expand our support for job seekers and our access to employers. Partners such as the Walmart Foundation have funded unique programs to reach targeted populations, including veterans and military families. Professional services partners like Accenture and Deloitte have helped us advance in key operational areas. So, yes cross-sector partnerships are a cornerstone of Goodwill’s work.

Because of our expansive footprint, access to people in need, and expertise, we can leverage these partnerships and become a force multiplier for impact. We believe this expanding collaboration can drive systemic change to benefit America’s job seekers, career advancers and employers alike. 

Q4: What advice would you give to organizations that are not already engaging in second chance employment? What tools do they need to start?

First, realize that second-chance hiring isn’t a compromise. It is a step forward in creating a rich organizational culture that is more diverse and inclusive. It helps to break the false narrative that a person’s past will dictate their future. Individuals returning home often show a strong work ethic, a desire to move forward and tremendous gratitude when given opportunities. Your next great hire may be someone you never expected. In addition, someone’s entire future, and their family’s future, may be completely altered by your willingness to hire them. 

Hire for skills, aptitude and attitude. The skills you seek could have been learned and demonstrated in different ways and in diverse circumstances. An eagerness for an opportunity to launch a new life, earn a living, and be part of a successful team is a game-changer in any work place. In addition, be committed to providing ongoing development and advancement opportunities and support your team with mentoring, which is transformative for someone who has never had this type of support.  

There is an abundance of eager talent out there looking for opportunities that you can offer. Partner with Goodwill or others with expertise in workforce development to create a win-win for your business and for people coming home. 
 
When your company is ready to get started, there are lots of places to find help and guidance. SHRM’s Getting Talent Back to Work toolkit is a great resource, and Dave’s Killer Bread Foundation’s Second Chance Playbook offers video content to help businesses understand and adopt this talent philosophy within their organizations.

At Goodwill, we work with companies across North America to support inclusive hiring and set both employer partners and job seekers up for success.

On November 18, Steven C. Preston will be speaking at the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s 2020 Corporate Citizenship Conference: Business Solves on a panel discussing the power of second-chance employment. Explore the full agenda here and register to join us.