In the Biz: Need Help Hiring?

NOBA’s Talent and Workforce Development program is a great resource for entrepreneurs.
Illustration by Tony Healey

So, your fledgling business has made it through those early stages, your customer base and revenues are growing and it’s time to start hiring a few staff members. Now what?

It’s no secret that we have challenges with workforce quality in our region. And while many area entrepreneur support programs include a component on hiring and managing employees, they don’t connect entrepreneurs to a pipeline to find them.

It’s been just one year now since New Orleans Business Alliance’s Talent and Workforce Development program stepped in to fill this gap. As framed by Ashleigh Gardere, NOLABA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, this program is “activating the people resource we have here in New Orleans.”

NOLABA is using the STRIVE International model, tailored to those facing the greatest barriers to employment, which can include people with difficult family situations, those suffering with physical or mental illnesses and the previously incarcerated. Gardere added that challenges can include the fact that “even people with degrees sometime do not get the basics of fulfilling job responsibilities.”

Working with partners like Total Community Action, the Urban League and Job One, NOLABA identifies people who are ready to move past their barriers and into the workforce. The program is an intense four-week course that focuses a lot on the “soft skills” valued by employers, like attitude, teamwork and receiving and accepting feedback.

“We want to prepare people for real work scenarios,” said Gardere, “and initially, we didn’t realize how many people were stuck in their situations, how much trauma people were experiencing. So many people do not believe that opportunity is available to them.”

Upon completing the program, graduates receive assistance in finding a job and/or with securing more job-specific training. Currently, approximately 300 people have gone through the program. Graduates have an 84% employment rate and 78% retention rate and have found jobs with companies as diverse as PJ’s Coffee, Ochsner Health Care Systems and Capital Energy.

The program has been so successful, in fact, that NOLABA is now launching a new component that offers training for people who are already employed but may still be grappling with some of these workforce readiness skills.

For entrepreneurs struggling to find employees, NOLABA is an open, no-cost resource.

“You can come to us and share your hiring needs,” Gardere explained, “and we can connect you to workers who are ready to step into the jobs you have.” She added that with many small businesses, the organization collaborates to find employees that live nearby.

When, for example, local artisan kombucha maker Big Easy Bucha was ready for its first expansion, the owner came to NOLABA and was able to fill the company’s staffing needs with graduates from the program.

Gardere sees the Talent and Workforce Development program as a good fit with NOLABA’s overall focus on creating “a thriving economy that delivers for everyone. We need to fully leverage all the benefits that New Orleans has to offer in a way that leads to truly inclusive growth.”

There is a lot of attention being paid to developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem that is genuinely accessible to those from disadvantaged backgrounds; complimenting this with workforce development programs focusing on these same communities is a critically important link. When successful, entrepreneurship lifts up both individuals and communities, and when business owners can hire staff from their communities, it accelerates this process while easing some of the challenges businesspeople face in finding the right employees. Ideally, this type of connectivity will endure and expand as new programs, for both entrepreneurs and workers, come online.

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Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.

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