CARSON CITY, Nev. — Northern Nevada Development Authority President and CEO Rob Hooper saw a connection problem.
Employers in the region weren't finding skilled workers to hire, and the employees wanting to work couldn't access the education and get the skills they needed to go after the jobs.
Hooper and Capital City CIRCLES President Shelly Aldean asked the daunting question: What can be done to generate enough local workers with the right skills to help local companies and the economy thriving while at the same time preparing both parties for more challenging opportunities?
Their newly established pilot program, Realizing Opportunities for the American Dream to Succeed, or ROADS, is a collaboration among NNDA, Western Nevada College and regional groups, including the Capital City CIRCLES initiative, Friends in Service Helping, Carson City Health and Human Services, among others.
The launch targets many of the Sierra region's working individuals and families who are underemployed, or able to secure a job but lack postsecondary education, to transition them into more highly successful careers, Hooper and Aldean said.
“These people are working at low-paying jobs, they end up with a kid or two and we've had husbands who say, ‘We can't live like this, we need something different,'” Hooper said in an interview with the Nevada Appeal.
Hooper, who chairs WNC's Institutional Advisory Council, composed of a number of the region's educators and business representatives, worked to gain the support of various groups to create the program.
ROADS welcomes employers from social services, private industry, governmental agencies, nonprofits and anyone else willing to lend their resources to help families in need.
Companies that already have applicants coming to them in need of jobs with or without the soft or technical skills or even the confidence because of past experiences are welcome to join the effort aimed at serving a demographic of 25- to 34-year-olds who show they can hold down a job and have the drive to keep going in the labor market, Hooper said.
For example, potential employees might try applying for various hospitality jobs in Carson City, Reno or Lake Tahoe — wherever the need is — but they aren't skilled for them, and the employer will tell them so, Hooper said.
“These folks, they go to apply for the job and the prospective employer says, ‘I can't hire you because you're not certified, and you need this and this and this,'” Hooper said.
Hooper said the “pipeline flow” quickly was jamming with no way to alleviate it.
“I talked to NSHE (the Nevada System of Higher Education) and Frank Woodbeck, who was the director of workforce development, now with Southern Nevada College, and I said, ‘How many people do you have in Nevada … needing work and lacking postsecondary education?'" Hooper said. "The number is around 550,000. That's our missing workforce right there.”
Hooper said low-paying jobs for this population who don't have more than a high school degree with minimal college education or none at all are under threat.
“In Las Vegas, one estimates as much as 60 percent of hospital jobs are going to be replaced by automation, so where are they going to go?” Hooper said.
Aldean, serving as president of the Capital City CIRCLES Initiative since 2008, said organization would be key to helping this younger demographic.
While the pilot program remains formulative, the main idea is that everyone who wants to participate remains welcome. There's also a funding committee provided by Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation contributing seed money to the program.
Aldean said anyone seeking to make a difference is invited to join.
“What I have observed as president of CIRCLES for a number of years, you've got a lot of well-meaning organizations, a lot of different service organizations all operating in their different individual silos, and although there are meetings like the canned meetings where all of these folks come together, there's not enough collaboration and integration of effort,” she said. “That's what we hope to accomplish with ROADS by bringing all of these people to the table.”
While WNC would provide the formal education and give participants the classroom knowledge, other partners, such as CIRCLES, FISH, Health and Human Services and a number of other agencies can assist with other skill sets or needs, Aldean said.
Though the group is not an official 501(c)3 nonprofit, it also has invited local representatives such as the Board of Supervisors such as Stacey Giomi or former Carson City School Superintendent Mary Pierczynski, now a member of the Institutional Advisory Council, rural housing partners and others.
The hope is to use their collective knowledge, pass it on and then train the participants to become mentors, or navigators, themselves eventually, Aldean said.
Hooper also noted the program itself at this point is not entirely structured, and allowing for modification will be helpful as others become interested.
He said one young woman already has gone through the pilot program as an experiment to ensure whether some of the processes work and help overcome or anticipate some early obstacles that might come with it. Her progress has appeared promising, he said.
“We want this to be as smooth a process as possible,” he said. “We have an open door with those who want to participate and not to be exclusionary. We don't want ROADS to be a competitor; we want ROADS to be viewed as a collaborator with those other programs.”
Aldean said strengthening the focus on employers as a whole will help the individuals.
“It's industry centric,” she said. “Instead of us telling industry what we think they need, we want industry to be at the table to tell us what they need, and that conversation is not only happening at the ROADS level, but it also needs to happen at the college level. … There's a great emphasis on collaboration.”