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VOL. 37 | NO. 44 | Friday, November 01, 2013

Midstate businesses find trained staff at Goodwill Industries

By Joe Morris

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In Lawrenceburg, people in search of training and job placement aid line up at a Goodwill Career Solutions outlet. Many area employers praise the results.  

“Give it to Goodwill” has been an effective ad campaign for years in Middle Tennessee, ensuring that the charity’s clothing racks and store shelves stay full of merchandise.

What’s less known is that funds raised in Goodwill stores are playing a part in the regional employment-training landscape thanks to a growing chain of Goodwill Career Solutions outlets, where counselors are working with Goodwill clients to find regular, reliable employment.

“In the last couple of years we have gone from seven up to 25 as of this November,” says Betty Johnson, vice president and chief people officer for Goodwill Industries of Middle Tennessee.

“What we see as the real benefit is that we can put counselors and administrative personnel in a career center that’s near, or at, a Goodwill store, and then we can attract people who are unemployed or underemployed to come and work with us. We can help them become better applicants, and then they stand a better chance of getting a good job in their community.”

Calsonic Kansei, Macy’s Logistics, Home Depot, Dollar General and Wal-Mart, are among businesses to seek staffing help from Goodwill career centers.

The growing number of job-center infill reflects Goodwill of Middle Tennessee’s vast retail reach: the 501(c)3 non-profit covers a 48-country area stretching from Union City and Jackson in the west to Crossville in the east, then north to Clarksville and south to Lawrenceburg and Lewisburg. As of November it will operate 34 stores and 75 donation centers, with more planned for 2014, Johnson says.

The career centers, which can be freestanding or attached to a store, make it a point to work with people who have had difficulty connecting with regular employment for health or other reasons, but anyone who comes through the door is welcome to take an assessment and take advantage of the services offered, Johnson adds.

Those include goals assessment, help with job searches, classes on interviewing and resume-writing skills and other hiring-oriented efforts. In addition, some Goodwill Career Solutions locations also offer certification and training courses in areas like forklift operation, document imaging training and call center training, as well as six different computer-training programs.

Almost all career center services are free, with programs underwritten in Goodwill of Middle Tennessee’s annual operating budget — about $8 million for 2013. More than 90 percent of those funds are generated by store sales, Johnson explains.

In addition to physical growth, the push now is for more employees to get involved with the career centers. To that end, job fairs are being set up at different locations, with one or more employers coming onsite to meet applicants and do some hiring. The centers have connected with more than 1,100 employers so far throughout Middle Tennessee, Johnson says, and in September Goodwill hosted 56 job fairs and helped place 640 career-center trainees.

“We opened these centers and hired trainers to go out and offer different types of training, everything from forklift operation to security guard, health care and custodial, because at Goodwill we see a lot of people who need some skills, or who need a few weeks to become a better candidate when they apply for jobs,” she explains.

“Over time, we realized that we were doing a good job training, but we needed to move those operations closer to the employers’ awareness.”

The growing number of job fairs does just that, she says. They’d been tried before during the early 2000s, but the economic downturn meant that there was less traction for all parties involved. Fast forward to 2011, and Johnson says that staffing agencies looking for entry-level candidates led resurgence in interest. At the same time, Goodwill hired a business-development director, Alan McMillan, to push the career center services even further.

“Those moves have helped us build a very strategic relationship with those employers who hire our types of candidates,” Johnson says. “Now we are going out to seek other types of business partners, so we can continue to build upon those relationships.”

McMillan’s efforts have included a formal, five-month business development plan with all counselors at every center. Everything from making cold calls to growing existing relationships is covered, and Johnson says she credits that with more employers coming to Goodwill and asking to take part in a job fair, or asking for their own hiring day at a career center.

“We were doing about 300 hires a month through all the centers by July of this year, when it went to more than 400,” she adds. “If they want a job fair every week, we do them. Then in August we had 565 people hired, and that went to more than 600 in September. Something’s really exploding here, and that’s why our strategic plan calls for more centers.”

Recent events have been held for Macy’s Logistics, which needed more than 1,500 material handlers, pickers, packers and equipment operators for its Sumner County location. Other fair and hiring-day participants include Home Depot, Dollar General and Wal-Mart, as well as a variety of home health care and call center staffing agencies. The current mix is 30 percent staffing agencies, 50 percent to 60 percent actual employer, Johnson says, with Goodwill itself taking up the remainder with its own store hiring. (Goodwill has more than 1,700 employees in its retail operations.)

“We are working to provide a good mix of options for our candidates, so that the word gets out, and we have more people coming to the centers,” she says.

For employers, the job fairs and private career days are economical ways to find multiple qualified employers at once. Goodwill’s stepped-up efforts on training and assessment means a more qualified pool of applicants, which further drives interest in their career centers, says Nerissa Rollins, Human Relations generalist for the Smyrna recruiting offices of Calsonic Kansei.

“When I joined our company in October 2012, they had been using a temp service to bring in their contingency workforce, but had realized we could do a better job by bringing that function in house,” Rollins says. “They had opened a recruiting office, and I was brought in to manage staff recruiting.”

She found that there were few applicants in the company’s pipeline, and most people associated the new office with a staffing or temp agency due to the company’s history. She also found that while people knew Nissan, they did not know Calsonic, despite its ties to the auto manufacturer.

“I began reaching out to connections I had through Linkedin and other professional and business avenues, and when I found out about Alan, I got in touch with him,” Rollins says. “I knew that there was a Goodwill Career Center Murfreesboro, but I didn’t know what they did or what population they catered to. Once I reached out to them, thinks really took off from there.”

Rollins began going once a month to the center in Murfreesboro and Antioch, just to do a meet and greet. People would apply on the spot, and she got enough successful hires so that when Calsonic announced an expansion in September, she upped her recruitment visits to weekly stops.

“We are adding a facility, and so there are new jobs,” she says, “I needed a pipeline, and Goodwill said we could come in from 8 a.m to noon every Tuesday morning in Antioch and the same time period on Wednesdays in Murfreesboro. We have been able to hire a lot of their clients over the last nine months, which has been very beneficial to us.”

The career centers work for her needs, she says, because “They don’t operate like a temp agency, but are open to the public for people who need some readiness training. They walk in and get assessed, and then Goodwill shares with that person whatever services they have, whether it’s job readiness skills like interviewing or writing a resume down to some actual training. That means an employer can really capitalize on using them as a partner.”

Because many people don’t know about this aspect of Goodwill’s services, but are only familiar with the retail side of operations, she at first met with some bemusement.

“A lot of people at my company wondered why I kept going to Goodwill, but I knew what I was doing and it worked,” Rollins explains. “We got good employees, and we helped the community. What they are doing really is a win-win for everyone.”

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