Guy Loudon is the Executive Director of the Jane Addams Resource Corporation, a center for working families based in Chicago, Illinois. JARC has been an active Skills Summit attendee since 2008 and was recently selected to be featured in the White House’s Ready to Work Action Plan as an exemplary job-training and workforce development program. Guy joined NSC last week at the White House to attend the President’s signing of WIOA.
In the interview below, Guy discusses how involvement with NSC has helped to advance JARC’s mission. He also shares his take on the evolution of workforce development and best practices learned from his work in the field.
Can you tell us a little about your professional background and how you came to focus on workforce development?
Prior to joining JARC in 1995, I worked in the manufacturing sector as a machinist and also worked as a GED instructor. I then went on to join JARC as a manufacturing trades instructor for our worker training programs. The position allowed me to combine my love of machining with my love of teaching; it was a life-changing opportunity for me. When I first started at JARC, we were launching incumbent worker training programs in partnership with manufacturing employers. From there, we went on to develop job training and employment programs for unemployed adults. The timing and the context were neat; JARC was in its infancy but we were already viewed as a pioneering leader in the emerging sectoral approach to job training and workforce development. Even though I was very young, I was aware of being a part of an emerging trend in workforce that was very important, and we all felt like we were part of a learning community.
What has been your more significant accomplishment as executive director of JARC?
Right now it’s a very exciting time to be at JARC; we just finished up a successful strategic plan focused on organizational growth. We managed to grow significantly but remain very true to our mission and values by focusing on quality, synergy and sustainability—we stressed those themes over and over from every perspective - programmatic, operational, etc. In fact, we’re a better organization today. In our new strategic plan we are significantly scaling our impact through a combination of strategies including geographic expansion, replication with strategic partners, and even growing vertically in our existing training facility.
You were present at the WIOA signing at the White House. What was that experience like, and how do you expect JARC will be affected by the reauthorization?
It was very exciting being at the White House! One of my impressions of the event was how the President and the other officials seemed to be in such a light mood. For the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act to pass by such a landslide, in comparison to the usual lack of bipartisanship, it was great thing to witness. The overwhelming majority of votes from both parties really shows that workforce development is a bipartisan issue. It confirms that businesses as well as low-income workers are all very concerned about skills training and workforce development.
Since I’ve been doing this work with National Skills Coalition, I’ve seen a total evolution in the conversation about the important of workforce development. The passage of WIOA really signals that the workforce training is starting to get the attention it deserves on the Hill. For years, workforce development was in the defensive mode, which was not exactly the best environment for putting forward new ideas. The content of the new law as well as the spirit of the Vice President’s commission all point to the idea that our nation’s workforce efforts need to be aligned with skill and opportunity in the labor market. This validation allows JARC to really focus on training people and putting them into jobs that are aligned with employer demand.
How has JARC’s strategies changed and developed throughout the years?
JARC has made a number of significant, pioneering innovations in the area of job training and employment services. We run our job training programs like a simulated work environment, and the curriculum is structured around industry credentials. It’s based on an open-entry, open-exit policy which allows real-time job training and employment services for the job seekers, a real-time pull system for the employer, and increases capacity for the workforce system. Another change is that ARC now provides bundled financial support services, including income supports and financial coaching. With these bundled support services, our participants not only get jobs but are also moving toward self-sufficiency by paying off debt, improving credit scores and opening bank accounts.
When did JARC get involved with NSC? How has your partnership with NSC helped to support JARC’s work?
JARC’s involvement with NSC actually goes back to my predecessor, Ray Prendergast, who first attended NSC’s Skills Summit in 2008. JARC initially got involved with NSC because it wanted to start advocating for workforce development, from the national, state and local levels. JARC continues to advocate for best practices to make sure our workforce system is relevant and high-performing, and NSC continues to be an effective space to operate in carrying out that mission. JARC also actively participates in the Illinois delegation at NSC’s annual Skills Summit. The Illinois delegation—which includes the Chicago Jobs Council, City Colleges of Chicago, and several other workforce organizations—is experienced, well-rounded and effective at going out on the Hill and talking about workforce issues. Through NSC, we can promote best practices from our on-the-ground experience in areas such as bridge programming, sectoral strategies, strategic partnerships with industry, and industry certifications.