We’re at a turning point in our world—and in talent. Employers are struggling to fill roles across sectors, and the talent shortage will only continue as the economy becomes increasingly digital. The pandemic has accelerated the need for digital skills and normalized remote work. Meanwhile, the Great Resignation is underway, workers are seeking opportunities that better support their lifestyles, and workforce diversity and inclusion objectives are critical.

How can companies evolve their talent strategies to adapt to these circumstances?

Community reskilling is one powerful option for tackling these challenges head-on. These initiatives involve companies forming public-private partnerships to source, train, and hire non-traditional candidates from underserved communities—often with the help of a reskilling partner like General Assembly. We just launched an in-depth whitepaper on the topic—download it here.

To shed light on this growing trend, we hosted a webinar featuring a group of three workforce champions (and GA partners) who are in the midst of their own community reskilling journeys. Led by our VP of Government and Workforce Partnerships, Priya Ramanathan, this conversation is a rich and insightful deep dive into what it takes to organize these initiatives, the outcomes they generate, and how this rising trend is shaping the future of work. 

Now is the time for community reskilling

“It’s a perfect storm,” says Ankur Gopal, CEO of Interapt, a Kentucky-based IT services firm. “There’s a talent crisis, an equity crisis, and a pandemic that has brought an acceptance to remote work. People can work anywhere. Companies are willing to hire for skills, not paper. And they’re looking at people who are typically left behind by the tech economy.” Gopal has partnered with GA to create a community reskilling program to identify, train, and deploy quality tech talent for their own, as well as their client’s needs, with great success.

Not only has the pandemic prompted companies to reevaluate their hiring practices—but it’s also opened up new sources of funding. “As terrible as the pandemic has been, and as much as we want to be through it, a lot of government dollars became available,” says Dwayne Crenshaw, President, and CEO of the Greater Sacramento Urban League, which offers a digital upskilling program dedicated to empowering Black and Latino Sacementans. “This is an opportune time, where government has lots of resources to put on the street for this type of work.” 

But need and funding aren’t enough. It takes an attitude of responsibility, too. “We all should wake up and exist to make a difference in the communities we serve in,” says Nadine Powell, who runs operations at the M&T Bank’s Tech Academy, where she grows net new talent from historically underserved communities. Based in Buffalo, NY, the company isn’t located near a tech hub like New York or Silicon Valley. But that’s not stopping Powell. “We have the infrastructure, assets, human capital, and the talent pool to be as competitive,” she affirms.

Drive winning outcomes for all stakeholders

Every expert on the panel agreed that the returns from community reskilling initiatives are promising. “The ROI from a community perspective is fantastic, says Crenshaw. “The people we select from our programs have an average salary under the poverty line, $0-18K a year. In just a few months, we’re able to flip them to an apprenticeship where they’re making $40k or $50k, depending on the skill set and level they come in.”

From there, the benefits ripple outward to employers, employees, and the community at large. “We get the talent we need, our clients get good quality talent on their projects and the community wins,” says Gopal. “We’re raising wages, moving people from food stamps, and off assisted housing. Personally, as a tax-paying citizen, I’d rather invest the training cost to get someone empowered and give them upward mobility, as opposed to handing them subsidies. It’s been a fantastic journey that has seen the community thrive.” 

Build strength through partnerships

Putting together a successful community reskilling program takes a village. Powell and her team spread the word about reskilling opportunities through 100 community partners like churches, barbershops, and other community staples. “We believe very strongly in a better together hypothesis,” she says. “To us, it’s a job well done if candidates come to Academy through the community partners they already know and trust.”

Crenshaw agrees that trust is of paramount importance—as well as a sincere belief in the community. “Promises have been made over the years to these communities that have been broken,” he says. “You have to go in and break those social contracts. You need to take people seriously and  believe in their talents and support that.”

Push past one and done

Importantly, the work of community reskilling doesn’t end with simply training workers and providing them with a job. Employees need ongoing support—especially those who have never had a corporate job before. Such a dramatic shift in access and earning power requires time to acclimate. “I really believe that as we scale this, it’s not one and done,” says Crenshaw. “You have to make sure you’re not throwing too much at people. One employee broke down when they got their key card, saying they’d never been trusted to go into a building of this magnitude. We learned that those things we don’t take for granted.”

Community reskilling is an ongoing journey requiring continuous investment. But it’s a solid long-term investment, that delivers real results. As Gopal puts it, “Community reskilling is meaningful, it’s impactful, and frankly, it’s solving a number of problems in our country—all at the same time.”

Interested in learning more about community reskilling programs? Let’s talk

Disclaimer: General Assembly referred to their Bootcamps and Short Courses as “Immersive” and “Part-time” courses respectfully and you may see that reference in posts prior to 2023.