Adam Scholtes:             This is the Skill Up Build Up Podcast powered by the Morales Group where we are leading talent to thrive. The war for talent is real skill, a buildup as a place to connect with businesses and community leaders to surface for thinking solutions for a better skilled workforce to compete in the 21st century.

Kofi Darku:                   Today we have Sally Reasoner from Ascend Indiana on and we're really excited to talk about what she does and what Ascend does. Real quick Ascend bridges, divides and fills talent gaps with the network they provide and the services they provide. And we'll learn more during this episode. So to get things off, we're just going to jump right in to this conversation. Welcome Sally.

Sally Reasoner:             Hello, thank you. I'm so grateful to be here.

Kofi Darku:                   All right, Sally, so that our audience gets a better understanding of Ascend and you can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Sally Reasoner:             My name is Sally and I lead and co lead the network team and Ascend alongside my very talented and wonderful colleague Capers Shears, but a little bit of my path which I think will kind of bleed into Ascend. I started my career, so I found, I actually made my way to Indiana by way of Depauw University where I studied my hobby, political science and um, after Depauw, I think like most political science students thought my only path was to law school. So I applied to law school through a series of very fortunate events, found my way to the Orr Fellowship Program, which at the time had built this whole future. Thought it was this perfect pathway until labor and employment law. I could get some business experience first. So I spent two years working with Finished Master. Most folks have no idea what they do, but they are fantastic Indiana employer, they are the largest independent distributor of automotive paint. So they are, they are kind of the third party in automotive paint, making sure that when you take your car to a collision repair shop, there is paint to fix it right up. So he spent two years there. And what Orr Fellowship always shares is that it's not the what, it's the WHO and to find a group of people that you really connect with and feel inspired by and challenged by. And I had the WHO so clearly at finished master, but what I was missing was the, what I really learned through that experience that what we were doing mattered a lot to me too. Um, so rather I had actually moved all of my stuff back to Ohio to start law school. Um, after the fellowship was done when Michael and Julia, who was also a Depauw alum or fellow along he, he was building the team. He had just taken over a CEO at Tech Point, which is part of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and was building his strategy and team. And I jumped on board and spent nearly four years there building their college to career talent programs and really found that I could have the what and the WHO and found my niche in workforce development. And it was this really phenomenal space to work with students and serve our economy and, and kind of fill both of those roles by serving student and fueling the community here and then when Ascend was being built, it was an opportunity to expand what I found that I loved to techpoint in the workforce development space to serve not only software developers, which had really focused on while I was at tech point, but to serve students in the economy more broadly. So I have been at Ascend for just over two years.

Adam Scholtes:             Excellent. That's a great, uh, a great collaboration of everything, right? Like you've got the tech, you've got the got the people you're serving. That's, I love the what and the who that you referenced there. So can you give us a little bit of the history on Ascend and kind of why is there a need for it? Like, let's, let's dig into that.

Sally Reasoner:             Sure, sure. And Kofi cut me off on this one, but, um, this. In order to tell the story of Ascend, I think it's important to tell the story of CICP. You have to give some background please. Great. So the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, which I will refer to as CICP, I think is one of the neatest organizations in our city and state that most folks have never heard of. Not many people know CICP yes. And a lot of their work had been done largely behind the scenes until over the past few years. I think a few initiatives have taken more of a public stance, but I will tell my version of the story as I, as I was told by Mark Miles who is now president Homeland Court, but was president at CICP. So when he was sharing the story of CCP, what he shared was that in 1999, the Indianapolis that we know and love today was very different. And downtown. I mean if you look at pictures, ghost town and was a very, very different place. And so in 1999, executives from a few corporations got together behind closed doors and we're talking openly about the challenges that they faced. It was difficult to attract media attention for all of the great work that they were doing because he knew Indianapolis was very much a fly over city at the time. Um, it was difficult to attract top talent, difficult to attract investment in the innovation that they were leaning forward. And so what they, they made the decision to do, which is very unique compared to pure cities, is that they made the decision to work together to solve some of those challenges that they're facing. So rather than having an Eli Lilly solution and a Simon Property Group solution, it was let's, let's think about this holistically. So I'm right around the time that they were having those conversations. The Lilly endowment and other funders were looking to fund some sort of economic driver and they combined forces and eventually created what is what is now known today as CICP, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. The idea being let's invest in a team of people that will wake up every day thinking how do we advance this key wealth driving sector in the city? And now we've expanded to the state. And so they started with, I think when you look at our economy and the industry that really rises to prominence is life sciences. So that's where they started with bio crossroads was the first initiative of CICP and then from there in 2006 tech point was formed from there, Connexus Indiana. They focus on advanced manufacturing, logistics and defense. Wonderful. Then ESN focused folkestone, clean energy, energy systems network, Agra Novas. And then Ascend is really the new kid on the block. And that kind of leads into our, to our foundation story. But a few neat things about CICP people don't know about. So the original super bowl bid was submitted by Central Indiana Corporate Partnership. So we're rallying some, some efforts are on community building in the city that Blue Indy cars that you see downtown, all of that work was done behind the scenes. So I save ya how CICP is this organization that is really phenomenal, but a lot of people haven't heard of. CICP did all the work around the Blue Indy cars then transferred it to the city county council to pass through. Um, but they negotiated the deal with Blueray company of France. So that's, that's again my version of the telling. There's a great book called New Localism that highlights the story. It's dead. It was published by a fellow at the Brookings Institution. They looked at cities that all they fell all modern city should emulate, um, in the chose Indianapolis for that Corp are the Public Private Partnership Component. Localism. It's a great read. They only, they highlight are they deep dive into three cities, Copenhagen for their transportation system, Pittsburgh for their rise after the fall of the steel industry there. And then Indianapolis for this private public collaboration.

Kofi Darku:                   Interesting company, very distinguished. And that was a great quick synopsis on the background of CICP. What's really phenomenal to me is that there's been some, some smart investment and some intentionality for roughly 20 years now in terms of how to drive he thinks. And so currently we know we have hundreds of thousands of open positions in central Indiana, uh, across the state. And as the years will continue, we're going to have more and more openings to the point of having over a million open new jobs and if we're not being intentional and smart about how we're planning to fill those jobs will never succeed. So I'm so happy that CICP been doing this for over 15 years and now we have Ascend on the map.

Sally Reasoner:             Exactly. And that was really the impetus for Ascend. I mean we had all of these nonprofits that were industry vertical and they were vertical to the industry that they served. And we're starting to see more talent programs. So Connexus started high school internship program. Now they're working with IndyVets, which connect veterans to jobs. Tech point had their talent programs, but there was nothing that looked at the market holistically and CICP although we cover many of the industries, we miss core ones like healthcare and financial services where they are. When you look at the data, where a lot of the jobs are. And so we were really created to fill in those, to support the Connexus programs and tech point programs. But to look at the economy holistically, so we are the first cross sector initiative of CICP.

Kofi Darku:                   I feel like Ascend, if correct me if I'm wrong, oftentimes with our focus on manufacturing and some of the jobs we feel we're looking at, people that may not have a college degree or some type of postsecondary credential doesn't ascend focus more so on the people with post secondary credentials and degrees?

Sally Reasoner:             The workforce development space in, in talent. Talent space is very crowded one in there, a lot of activities going on and where we really saw a gap where we can come in and serve is in the college to career pipeline. And so I'm both associates degree in bachelor degree, but looking at folks coming out of institutions are currently enrolled to connect um, early and often with industry. So whether that be through an internship or once they graduate, a full time position.

Kofi Darku:                   There has been a lot of mention about the network. And yes, we generically refer to a network, but you have a specific network with Ascend. Does the network you have benefit employers as well as perspective employees. And if so, how?

Sally Reasoner:             Great question. So when we think of the network at Ascend, we refer to it as our tech enabled recruitment platform and how we arrived at that solution was in our pilot year, we, we connect with a lot of research where we interviewed hiring manager, students, career services professionals and coming out of that, we found that there's this gap in the market for tech enabled solution or what we found as a gap in the market. So on the one end you had job boards like Handshake or Indeed that sometimes would match candidates to roles and if they did it was oftentimes based on major and um, or there was no match at all. And so it's just this database that students had to sift through which requires some baseline information on what's out there. And then on the other end you have staffing firms, which we don't see that often on college campuses. And so what we really do is we combine those two to really create this tech enabled human powered solution. So when we look at the network, I think our goal for that tech system, although it is a piece of technology, it's really human powered and so what I mean by that is every single candidate, so every student that's really who we are designed to serve the student and they interact with real human usually face to face before they have access to the network and that is to one, make sure that they're prepared and will be competitive against the other folks in the network. And if they're not then we help them find resources or work with them to reach the point where they will be competitive alongside peers in the network. So every candidate is met with and then that recruiter stays with the candidate. So they send personalized role recommendations. They really are there to be an advocate for the student throughout the job search process.

Adam Scholtes:             So if we can pause real quick. So if I'm. So if I'm looking at that and I'm a student, le'ts just walk through real life, dumbed down scenario of Kofi and I. Maybe it takes me a little bit longer to grasp these. Right? But you don't have to let them know that, so, so I'm a student and I jumped in the network. Whereas traditionally I'm the one, like you said, sifting through everything. And honestly I just don't have time, right. I finals, I have projects to get done, but here I get assigned. So. Right. So maybe I'm going into the workforce, um, from, I mean, are we talking strictly college? You mentioned college twice or it could it be focusing on college? She said students are focusing on

Sally Reasoner:             So our core focus to kind of cut down what is this massive market is to focus on early career. So the only roles that we work with our internships or that first job, typically that translates to students, associates or bachelors.

Speaker 3:                    That makes sense. So then I'm assigned to recruiter. That's a walk with me through this process, which is incredible. I mean you guys have to find so much value for the students in that piece of it. Right?

Sally Reasoner:             And we partner, so we partner with universities right now, we have 14 higher ed partners and we essentially act as, as a part of their career services staff that's the goal so that we can refer candidates back to them if they need additional support, interview skills, et Cetera. But because we really focus only on the point of connection between internship and job and you're right, students are really busy. They've got a lot going on, lots of clubs, activities, all sorts of things on campus finals. And so we want to be the advocate for them and frankly help translate because I was a political science student at, at Depauw and my options were law school or when I would go online and Google things, it would say administrative assistant, which wasn't quite what I was looking for, which is why the Orr Fellowship was so beneficial to me. And our goal is to help translate some of the industry speak to students so they know what they're qualified for and can have confidence as they search and apply. Um, and they have someone in their corner to help advocate or elevate their application for employers. They're not just tossing it into what can seem like a black hole. Sure.

Adam Scholtes:             Okay. So then then, so let's, let's bring in the employers into, okay, so, so now we're going to match. Talk us, walk us through that process.

Sally Reasoner:             So on the employer side, we need the decision on the technical side not to integrate with applicant tracking systems. So we do not integrate with ats systems. Rather what we do is we elevate opportunities for students that we, we believe they're a good fit for. And I can talk more about the matching algorithm if you're interested, I'll come back to that, but it once they, if they find that role at car auction services or Cummins, or IU Health, what they can do, they apply directly through, through that companies applicant tracking system and that's really where the recruiter comes in. Then. So if the candidate indicates to us that they have applied, which they can do through the system, then what we will do is what we heard over and over again from hiring managers is when they post on indeed career builder, other sites, they are just inundated with applications and then they have to use key words or to sift through everything. And so what we will do for the candidates that we know we've met with and have applied, we will send them a note and say, Hey, Kofi applied for this role. We think he'd be a really great candidate. His recipe is attached to make sure to look at his application so they're not completely lost in that system.

Adam Scholtes:             So you guys are almost like the like the friend that the company that like. I'm trying to get into Cummins and I know Kofi at Cummins. Hey Kofi, can you. Can you take my resume and elevate it?

Sally Reasoner:             You got it. And that's exactly right. Because the core focus of ours, although we are designed to serve all students and when we look at our target population, it's all students. We focus a lot of time and energy around underrepresented students for that reason. Exactly because, Destiny, one of the candidates that we worked with, she is a pell eligible student at Purdue who we met and she is just has this remarkable story, but her GPA didn't meet the threshold to get into the Orr Fellowship, but we knew she was qualified and had all of this energy and we were able to advocate for her so she. She ultimately is now in Orr Fellow. Whereas before the filter of GPA would have kept her out and I think that's really what we aim to do because there are a lot of students out there that don't have a mom or dad or neighbor that can get their foot in the door. Whereas we. We view that as our opportunity and frankly responsibility to be that person in resource for students.

Adam Scholtes:             Well, and the other piece too, I, maybe I'm wrong, but I think there's a lot of students out there to where they don't have a mom or a mom or dad or a friend even, or a family member that could even understand how to navigate to get them into college, let alone what are you doing to get out? They have, they just don't know at all and, and our students are relying on the, the, the university team. But are you getting that support there that you need to. So I love this.

Kofi Darku:                   To add to that, one thing that I think is outstanding is that because you mentioned that filter of GPA is normally there. And what we often talk about on this show is how do we help the. So let's just say the, the representation or the organization that's going to help with the employment. Uh, normally that's the employer who's going to give jobs. How do we help them start to rethink hiring requirements? Because there's a mismatch here and though they're looking for talented people, they may be using measures that's not opening the doors as wide as possible. And oftentimes GPA can hold great people back because they haven't scored at a certain level or held a certain GPA. And that's what I do love about what you're explaining. Ascend is helping you think that further and not let that filter prevents you from having people in. And that does relate a lot to a lot of marginalized communities that may not have a, those pathways clearly pay for them to get into those opportunities. So it's great that you're rethinking those requirements.

Sally Reasoner:             Absolutely. And oftentimes what I, what I've learned through my experience at Tech Point and now Ascend is it just takes that personal connection in order to see past that GPA or whatever at whatever criteria may not meet their filters. Um, and I think of a student, Liam, who we just connected to a company and he had a learning disability. But when you hear about his story, it's remarkable. He was originally rejected from all colleges because it's high school gpa was too low because he had this learning disability and he walked into the administrative office at Anderson University, I think knocked on the president's door and he sold himself into Anderson, which is remarkable for a student, especially someone when they're 18 years old and mean his GPA was not, was not a four point 0. and so he was really nervous about approaching the job search that it would be very similar to his college experience and he got a job offer yesterday from one of our employer partners and it's because we sent. We made the personal connection. Right, and

Kofi Darku:                   You're by doing that, you're bringing many more communities to the table. That's a, a person with a disability which we feel is in a marginalized community. How do we create more workforce opportunities for them? And Bam, you just had a great example of how that's being something that you get to bring that community in due to having those personal connections in going beyond some of those basic requirements.

Adam Scholtes:             Now Sally, We have a lot of, uh, we have a lot of um, employers listening. Um, do I, I completely see where a student's going to be like, Yep, I'm in like, help me, let's, let's go. Right. And nothing to lose. When you're looking at employers, how does that connection for you for Ascend and the network and the employer's work in? Do you see any push back? Do you see maybe it takes a little bit for them to buy in or is it like, nope, we're, we're 100 percent and let's go.

Sally Reasoner:             So I think something that we have working strongly in our favor is that we are still in our pilot phase and for the technology component and so therefore it's free to employers. Um, it's free to employers and students. They will always be free to students, but on the employer side we will have to move to some sort of sustainability model. Exactly. We don't know what that looks like and we are grateful to have some time to figure that out. But right. We haven't received much resistance from employers and I think it's because there isn't a price tag attached to it largely, but, and we're learning a lot from them now, but how it works on the employer side is we we build their presence within the network and we have a team of folks that do that. That is their full time job to to work on building that presence and essentially what they're doing is working alongside the employer to craft employer brand. If they don't have one or if they do highlight that within the network, but it's. It's this space where unlike Indeed they can speak directly to a millennial Gen z job seeker and highlight the things that are important to those students. So we in the network, on the employer profile page, we have an in the neighborhood section because we learn from job seekers that it's not just the job, although that's important. It's the company's core values. It's the place where are they going to live, what are they going to do, how are they going to meet people, and so we have in the neighborhood section that will. If the job is in Muncie, show where young professionals live in Muncie, what they do on the weekends, how they get engaged in the community, so it's this holistic picture of not just a job, but really what the life will look like for that candidate.

Kofi Darku:                   Before we get into more fun questions, I do want to touch on the applicant tracking system just for a little bit, so can you explain what happens with your algorithm and that system to help the students realize what skills they have and what jobs they can would would apply to them?

Sally Reasoner:             That's a great question and something that we've. We've done a lot of learning over the. So the network has. We launched our kind of Beta last fall, so a year ago now. We had exactly one employer in the network, but we're getting a lot of students in with the anticipation that in the spring we would add a lot of employers and what we learned from the Beta period was that we were able to effectively elevate opportunities for candidates, but they weren't relevant and so we did a lot of user testing with candidates. They would get, they would be an engineering student because they had all the correct skills tags would match to a patient care assistant role out of hospital and so some of the learning that we did is we have to account for for student preferences and so the malware, the matching algorithm as it as it operates today, really focuses on three criteria. First and foremost skills and a lot of that work is done with on the during the one on one meeting with the recruiter because we actually put in. We're rethinking this now, but we put the ask for students' skills upfront so before they even meet with the recruiter, they select or make an initial selection of what skills they think they have and what we found as we anticipated is that students will under report their skills and in don't often make the connection to especially within Liberal Arts to some of the soft skills that they have and how they translate. And so a lot of that coaching is done in the one on one meeting with the recruiter. It's sussing out from there as they learn more about their experience. What some of those skills are and doing some coaching with the candidate around this experience translates very well to project management, so although you didn't think of it as that, that is really what you have demonstrated through this experience. So that's the most important component of the matching algorithm. We don't match on major, so we want to make sure that the candidate has the baseline capability to do the job. The second factor is works out preference and so that's where we get at. What type of industry are you interested in? Are you interested in specific industry or are you open to anything? What types of roles are you looking for? So if it's an engineer looking for an engineering role, we want to make sure that we capture that or if it's a Liberal Arts student who's open to anything, they'll they'll match to anything. And then the third preferences location. So especially as we work with campuses like Indiana State University in Terre Haute, we find more and more candidates want to stay local there and so we want to make sure that we're elevating opportunities that, that are in the right location for them in their family. And so those three components, um, offer up what we think are that the best fit for the candidates. Oh, sorry, I didn't talk about the third thing which is the Ascend fit that really gets at culture fit and that's done during the one on one meeting and that data is input by the recruiter. And so those three things combined to have an overall fit. And those are the roles that we highlight and elevate to candidates. They're really neat thing in the future that I see is that they can see every single role in the system and how they match to it. So they might see a role at Roche where they're 100 percent work style fit, 100 percent culture fair Ascend fit, but they're two percent skills fit. So they can actually see the skills that they're missing and figure out and chart their own path to, if that's a role that they really want to acquire those skills in their academic career.

Adam Scholtes:             Yup. So let's jump into some of it was like to do some fun questions at the end right there. We get to know you a little bit. So some of these are holiday themed, I think just for the time we are in. But if were to steal your phone or your ipod and they're still ipods or your CD player, right? Um, right. Tape deck. Take a trek. Yeah. What, what type of music would we be listening to? What do you like? What do you enjoy?

Sally Reasoner:             A little bit of everything. Okay. So you'll find some. There's a, there's a really unique hip hop artists from Shelbyville Kid Quill. Oh, I've really been jamming too lately. You local kid? Yeah, he's, he's got some, some great. And music. I also, there's a different artists. I've been listening a lot too, but he's hip hopfolk music, a lot of Broadway show tunes, but mostly podcasts. If I, if I have the opportunity to listen to something, I typically will throw on a podcast rather than music.

Adam Scholtes:             So if you're at the gym or walking the dog or whatnot, is it still podcasts? Yeah. Yeah. You're like me. I'm I, I'll typically have a podcast.

Sally Reasoner:             Work, I'll typically have some music on because it helps me zone in to what I'm doing. I get too focused on podcasts.

Kofi Darku:                   All right. Were firmly in the holiday season. I got a tough question for you. Your favorite Thanksgiving side?

Sally Reasoner:             Well, I don't like turkey, so all I eat is sides when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, I would have to say my mom, and I know this is cliche, but she makes the best corn casserole. It's amazing. Well, I'm a midwest, born and bred, so almost everything I eat is in cassorole form. Oh, not everyone knows about that corn casserole corn. I'm a midwest, born and bred, so almost everything I eat is in the cassorole family. Yeah. I almost confused the corn casserole with the corn pudding. But you're saying corn casserole. That's right. Same thing, they, you know, that's for another show.

Kofi Darku:                   It could be that we could be talking about the same thing.

Adam Scholtes:             So I got the four day. How'd you know, kind of the four day holiday weekend. What do you look most forward to during the Thanksgiving break?

Sally Reasoner:             So I think two things that I cannot wait for one minute. I have a niece that I've only met one time before but I'm going to go back to Ohio tonight and spend some time with her. So she's, she is nine months old and cute as a button so I'm excited to see her. But then my partner and I bought a house in Fountain Square and it's always been my dream to host Thanksgiving and so I'm bringing my mom back. We're going to combine families and have a big Thanksgiving at our house. So I can't wait for that. You're, you're excited about. You cannot wait. We just, we got a dining room table just in the nick of time. That's great.

Adam Scholtes:             Well, I think I probably speak for Kofi. This is a treat. Loved learning about saying the network, what you guys are doing for um, you know, just the serving the students and then as well as really helping out the employers. Right? And connect. Just connecting them with good people. I love what you guys are doing.

Sally Reasoner:             Can I give a shameless plug? We are always looking for more employers help us pilot and to learn from. So what the ask that we have is to provide feedback and that's really it for the next year or so. Um, so if anyone is interested, ascendindiana.com and then you can fill out our contact form and we will be in touch, but we would, we are always eager to learn and try new industries. Challenge our, our recruiters. Um, so if there's anyone out there that would be interested in working with us, we would love to chat.

Kofi Darku:                   Calling all employers ascendindiana.com. Check it out. Uh, thank you so much for being on the show today, Sally. I'm so happy when we realize there are some focuses and efforts out there that are designed to serve the student, designed to serve the talent. So you all witnessed a treat, please stay engaged with the conversation at skillupbuildup.com And thank you.