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Many workers need 'gateway skills that just open up doors,' Goodwill CEO explains

Goodwill Industries International CEO & President Steve Preston joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the November jobs report, U.S. Secretary Marty Walsh’s comments on the unemployment gap, providing skills and training to workers, and boosting the employment rate.

Video Transcript

MARTY WALSH: There's a lot of people that might have left an industry during COVID, don't want to go back into that same industry. But there's lots of opportunities for job openings in our country. There's lots of good jobs in our country that are available. And moving forward for the strength of our economy, we need to start helping people, skill them up to get them into better paying jobs.

JULIE HYMAN: That was Labor Secretary Marty Walsh earlier on our show addressing the unemployment gap. A recent poll by the non-profit Goodwill Industries International show job seekers often lack the required skills and training, even when the jobs are available. So let's talk about how to close the gap with Steve Preston, Goodwill Industries International CEO and president.

And, you know, it was interesting to hear Secretary Walsh address that head on. It's something he's talked about before that there are these jobs, but you don't necessarily have the people with the skills necessary to fill them. And this-- we've been talking about this for a long time, it feels like, getting the people the skills. Where are we still seeing the sort of friction points or pain points in getting people the skills they need?

STEVE PRESTON: Yeah. Well, it is an issue that has been growing for many years. And in fact, we saw research come out recently that looked at job descriptions from five years ago and compared them to today. And the same job, if you look at the job description, 37% of the requirements have changed. They've gone up more requirement for digital skills, more requirement for different kind of engagement skills within an organization.

And then if you look at broadly, where the world is going, we're seeing more growth in healthcare. And right now, when you look at things like the infrastructure bill, which I know Secretary Walsh is very concerned about, we're looking at the need for trade skills. So the gap is in a few places.

Number one is people really don't know how to find access to those opportunities, right? And what our poll did-- you mentioned a poll we did earlier. What people told us in that poll is they saw jobs that they wanted, but that either didn't apply or couldn't get them because they didn't have the skills. And then we said, if you could get access to free skills training, would you do it? And 50% of them said yes. So it's helping people find out what's available. Once they get in, it's helping to support people through the process.

Many of the people we serve-- over 80% have a high school degree or less-- have not been through extensive training programs, don't really understand how a particular kind of training will lead to a particular kind of job. And what we find, overwhelmingly, is that people succeed when they have a human being, like a career navigator or a career coach, that can walk with them through that journey and support them so that they are actually guided along the way and, in many cases, will help them get other supports, such as childcare or healthcare or things like that, that may be obstacles in helping them get through the journey.

BRAD SMITH: McKinsey had published a study talking about the Great Attrition, and specifically within retail. And that kind of leads me to think about which sectors would see the biggest churn rate in some of the headcount or the employment if we did have adequate upskilling, if we did have the necessary training in order to put people in positions that help them on the wage front, outlast any impacts, lasting impacts or stickiness of inflation, or where it could just create kind of a better life for themselves as well or balance.

STEVE PRESTON: Yeah, I think that's a great question. Now, there is certainly sectors that have been kind of perennially depleted. Trades is one. Those are great opportunities for the people we serve because they-- people get training, that is, provides a long-term benefit. Often, the trajectory is better for them. But what we find also is, it's even those generalized skills that will open up doors for people. We serve hundreds of thousands of people each year in getting digital skills.

And it's not just computer programming, right? These are gateway digital skills that allow people to apply for jobs that they wouldn't even be able to touch if they didn't have those foundations. So sometimes it is-- there are things like trade skills or particular healthcare skills, but sometimes they are-- and very often, they are these gateway skills that just open up doors that people wouldn't be able to open otherwise.

JULIE HYMAN: I'm really glad we're having this conversation, especially after we talked to the head of Association of Independent Colleges and Universities a few moments ago. But this is a good reminder that under 40%-- it's just under 40% of the US adult population that has a college degree. Most people in the US don't, and they need to have these kinds of skills.

But I want to switch gears a little bit because it looks like we could be heading into a recession. What happens to funding for organizations like Goodwill at these periods of time? And how do you sort of buckle up and get ready for that?

STEVE PRESTON: Well, our funding comes from three sources. A very important source of our funding are the retail stores. If the retail stores are going well, the funding from the retail stores often funds local job centers or other kinds of human services that we provide. So if retail is growing for us, it provides us more funding there. We also get funding from various grant sources, as well as philanthropy.

So if any of those funding sources begin to diminish, it becomes a challenge for service providers like us. We're unique in that we're a social enterprise. We're one of the largest social enterprises in the world. So that connection between the store and mission is helpful, but those other funding sources are very important. Smaller providers that do very good work in our community are heavily dependent upon philanthropy. And so if philanthropic sources begin to decline, which can happen in a recession, that becomes a big concern for them.

BRAD SMITH: What kind of jump in partnerships have you seen in terms of the corporations that are working with Goodwill on the philanthropic side, but also on the job placement side, and just upskilling people, too?

STEVE PRESTON: Yeah, we have some terrific corporate partners. And it's both in the two things you mentioned-- philanthropy and actually hiring people-- but also in-kind support. So Google is a wonderful partner of ours. They provide us with access to training and development for people with digital skills. Coursera is a great partner. They provide similar support. is a partner. They provide our participants access to their placement systems and provide enhanced support there.

So what we have found-- and in fact, we launched an initiative over a year ago called Rising Together, which was an effort to bring in a number of corporations who cared about the same issues that we care about into this effort to change the face of opportunity for millions of Americans who don't have it. And many of them have provided philanthropic support. Many of them are hiring people. And very importantly, many of them are bringing sort of their organizational heft in ways that are unique to them, in our case, to help us move the ball forward for people.

BRAD SMITH: Really appreciate the time here and the work that you and the team do, especially-- and even more so than just the holiday season, but all year round as well. Goodwill Industries International CEO and president, Steve Preston. Thanks so much, Steve.

STEVE PRESTON: Thank you so much.

BRAD SMITH: Definitely.