As digital technologies become more prominent in how organizations work, employers are balancing the need for employees with digital and other hard skills with the need for employees with “soft” social, interpersonal, and communication skills. In fact, employers are increasingly prioritizing social and emotional skills; McKinsey, for example, predicts that skills such as communication, pattern recognition, logical reasoning, and creativity will be in high demand in the coming decades.
With these soft skills in high demand, Jake Bullinger proposed in a recent article at Fast Company that for-profit organizations consider hiring trained social workers to fill that need. Bullinger talks to Michàlle Mor Barak, a University of Southern California social work professor, who notes that companies today require expertise in societal good as they are increasingly under pressure to prioritize things like corporate social responsibility, work-life balance, and diversity and inclusion which weren’t on their radar a few decades ago. Social workers and other experts in social and emotional issues could be particularly helpful in people management and community engagement, Bullinger writes:
A human resources department staffed with therapists could better handle harassment claims, and recruiters working with social scientists could better target minority candidates. Corporate philanthropy arms would benefit, one can surmise, from case workers who understand a community’s greatest needs. The people best suited to run diversity and inclusion efforts might be those who study diversity and inclusion for a living.
I graduated with a master’s degree in social work in 2005 and have spent most of my career working in for-profit organizations. From my vantage point, social workers can provide an array of benefits, but organizations need to be realistic about what they can and can’t do.
The online polling company SurveyMonkey made headlines earlier this year when it revealed that it had begun offering “gold standard” medical, dental, and vision benefits, identical to those of its regular full-time employees, to its independent contractor workforce in January. The company was inspired to do so by its employees, many of whom pointed out in a benefits survey that while their benefits were excellent, they thought it unfair that they were unavailable to the company’s janitorial and catering staff.
Last week, Fast Company’s Eillie Anzilotti took a closer look at SurveyMonkey’s decision to equalize benefits, considering the change in the context of growing awareness of the impact this form of inequality has on the army of contractors who manage facilities for Silicon Valley tech companies and many other white-collar firms in the US. SurveyMonkey is committed to making benefits equality work, primarily as a statement of its values, Chief People Officer Becky Cantieri told Fast Company:
“We have expectations for ourselves that we use our platform to contribute positively to the industry,” Cantieri says. The prevailing independent contractor model in Silicon Valley leads to “two groups working literally side by side, who have a very similar impact on the day to day experience of working at the company, but are treated very differently,” she adds. It’s still an unusual arrangement in the tech world, so SurveyMonkey has been slow to scale it to its other offices outside of San Mateo, as they want to ensure they’ve ironed out the kinks, but they intend to do so going forward: This open enrollment season, they will bring expanded benefits to contract workers at the Portland office.
She also checks in with Managed by Q, a platform for part-time janitorial, maintenance, and clerical workers, whose founder Dan Teran decided in 2014 to classify workers on the platform as employees, not contractors, and offer them benefits including health insurance, paid leave, a 401(k) plan, and even equity. “Even though it may seem like a higher cost up front, we believed that the overall value of doing so would be higher than us just saying it’s not worth investing in our employees,” Maria Dunn, Managed by Q’s director of people, tells Anzilotti. The extra costs imposed by Teran’s decision isn’t hobbling the startup’s growth: Managed by Q has raised over $76 million so far and is turning a profit. It recently announced that it was acquiring the office space planning and project management service NVS, broadening its portfolio of services and potentially gaining new clients.
The Home Depot, the US’s largest home improvement retailer, announced last Thursday that it would donate $50 million to a decade-long project to train 20,000 Americans, including veterans, returning military service members, high school students, and disadvantaged youth, as construction workers, USA Today reported. The donation is part of the company’s corporate social responsibility efforts, but there’s also something in it for Home Depot:
Sales at the nation’s largest home-improvement retailer are dampened if contractors and partners can’t find enough workers to undertake projects. Sales to plumbers and other tradespeople comprise 40% of the company’s revenue, [Home Depot CEO Craig] Menear says. The initiative, he says, also builds on the company’s donation of $250 million through 2020 to provide housing to veterans. Soldiers and veterans will make up about 15,000 of the 20,000 construction workers turned out by the training program.
They could make a noticeable dent in a big problem. There were 158,000 job openings in construction in December, up from 140,000 a year earlier. Eighty-four percent of contractors surveyed by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and Wells Fargo in December cited availability of workers and cost as their most significant problems last year, along with rising materials prices.
The announcement comes at a time when many large US employers are taking high-profile steps toward developing the workforce of the future. Lowe’s, the main competitor to Home Depot, recently announced a partnership with Guild Education to help its employees complete training and apprenticeship programs for skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and appliance repair—fields in which the labor market is expected to face a gap of 500,000 workers by 2026.
At the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation, Institutional Shareholder Services Executive Director Subodh Mishra recently published a summary of an ISS analysis of 450 proposals filed at Russell 3000 companies, which shows how investors’ priorities are shifting toward social, political, and environmental concerns. More than two thirds of these proposals are related to social or environmental issues, chief among them political activity and spending, board and workplace diversity, and climate change and sustainability, Mishra writes. Furthermore, nine of the ten most common types of proposals related to one of these issues, whereas only one (demanding the right to call a special shareholder meeting) is focused on governance. Mishra sees two main factors driving this trend:
First, social and environmental issues themselves are gaining significant traction with investors and the public. Important issues, such as concerns about the transparency of the political process, harassment and equity in the workplace, and climate change risks make headlines and dominate the public discussion daily. At the same time, investors and asset owners are bolstering their efforts towards greater ESG integration, which helps proponents gain further momentum. Second, governance topics may be lower on the agenda for the target universe. Shareholder proposals are typically filed at large-capitalization companies, where many formerly-contested governance issues have now become the standard. Annual director elections, majority vote standard, simple majority vote requirements and even proxy access—to a large extent—are now the norm for the vast majority of large companies.
ISS’s analysis counts proposals related to diversity and inclusion toward its total of “social issue” resolutions; while that’s fair, investors are paying more attention to diversity not only out of a sense of social responsibility but also as part of the investor community’s growing concern with talent as a key driver of business value.
The Intel Foundation has made a $1 million grant to the International Rescue Committee to retrain 1,000 refugees in Germany for jobs in the tech sector through a program called Project CORE (Creating Opportunities for Refugee Employment), Ben Paynter reports at Fast Company:
In general, the training program will have several tracks that allow trainees to first gain the sort of basic skills they may need to gain entry-level jobs, (and immediate income) in data entry, programming, and IT work. Then, many will hopefully move on to advance their education through other services that will be offered. …
Trainees won’t necessarily be limited to just Germany-based jobs either. Having strong computer skills means that refugees who have other commitments at home or need flexible hours can join international companies or the gig economy. Even if no one worked remote, though, there are enough jobs for everyone in Germany. IRC and Intel have studied the country’s economy and, unlike resettlement areas in Jordan, there’s a booming tech sector that’s hungry for new employees.
Germany has taken in more than 1.5 million refugees from war-torn countries like Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan since 2015. The lack of stable work for these refugees, many of whom are young men, has contributed to high levels of unemployment within the refugee community as well as a relatively high incidence of violent crime. If it proves successful, Project CORE could go a long way toward improving the quality of life for Germany’s refugees and their families, in addition to helping address the talent shortage in the European tech sector.
Apple announced late last week that it was bringing its “Everyone Can Code” program to 70 more colleges and universities throughout Europe, Sarah Perez reported at TechCrunch:
The program, which Apple designed to help students learn how to build apps, launched in May 2017 but was initially limited to the U.S. before expanding to other markets, including Australia, and select institutions in Europe last November. The expansion brings the full-year curriculum to institutions in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Luxembourg, Poland and Portugal. …
The course is designed to teach students how to build apps using Swift, Apple’s programming language for writing iOS and OS X apps, launched back in 2014 as the replacement for Objective-C. Since Swift’s arrival, Apple has been heavily pushing various “learn to code” educational initiatives, including an entry-level app for teaching kids to code, called Swift Playgrounds.
Facebook, too, is growing its digital skill-building initiatives in Europe, Reuters reported on Sunday, opening three “community skills hubs” in Spain, Poland and Italy and investing 10 million euros in France through its AI research facility:
As the year draws to a close, many companies—such as Merck, Xerox, and JCPenney—are publishing their corporate social responsibility reports for 2017, highlighting the CSR activities they have undertaken this year and how they relate to the organization’s overall goals. In judging the impact of a CSR initiative, companies should consider not only how these efforts impact their community, improve organizational sustainability, and advance diversity and inclusion, but also what they mean to employees and customers.
When it comes to employees, candidates today are particularly interested in working for companies that demonstrate a strong commitment to social responsibility, so CSR investments can have a direct benefit in terms of attracting talent. The most innovative companies, however, are designing CSR initiatives that fulfill employees’ demand for volunteer opportunities while also drawing on their professional skills and interests to make that volunteer work more engaging and potentially valuable.
Companies commonly offer opportunities for employees to engage in simple volunteer tasks such as packing boxes of aid for needy households, serving food at a soup kitchen, or cleaning up a public park. These are all valuable acts of community service, but the companies that are having the most success getting employees involved in CSR initiatives are offering them more dynamic and engaging ways to give back.
Here are some of those companies and their methods:
Deloitte partners with nonprofits on projects to provide pro bono consulting or advice, allowing employees to use their professional skills and knowledge to help these organizations have a stronger impact.
Dell uses their Youth Learning program to give underserved youth around the world better access to technology opportunities, including through employees volunteering with nonprofit partners.
Time Warner sponsors employees who participate in public fundraising events such as the Bronx Zoo’s Run for the Wild, and gives out an annual award honoring employees who have made exceptional contributions to public service.