Kofi Darku:                   There's nothing like talking about workforce development with a workforce development expert and today's episode has Jennifer McNelly, President of 180 Skills. You all who are listening are so fortunate to be in the room while we talk about how your work world is changing. In this episode, we're, we're touching on what is happening in the world of talent, what behaviors employees might need to consider if they're going to secure that talent, and how to make sure all employees are prepared for these job opportunities.

Adam Scholtes:            Yeah Kofi,  I really enjoyed this episode with Jennifer. You know, just just a couple quick nuggets that she had that, that we're going to be sharing with you here shortly. We have more jobs open right now than people are looking since that's the first time it's happened since 1969. Like we're, we're going to dive into that.

Kofi Darku:                   Crazy stats.

Adam Scholtes:            She also mentioned, you know, they're, they're, they're starting to become an acceptance of employers willing to change hiring requirements. What does that mean, you know, for, for, for the pool right now. And then I loved at the end your question about call to action. For those, for those of you listening right now, wait to hear what her call to action is. I think you're going to be really, really excited to hear that.

Kofi Darku:                   Well, that's a great setup right there. Well, we're going to take you on this journey,  cohost here,  I'm Kofi Darku,

Adam Scholtes:            Adam Scholtes

Kofi Darku:                   And get ready to skill up build up.

Kofi Darku:                   All right. Welcome back to this up build up podcast where we're leading talent to thrive. Today we have Jennifer McNelly from 180 skills, she's the president there. And Jennifer, you were one of the few people I know that both has significant national work experience and significant local work experience in this field. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background?

J McNelly:                    Sure Kofi. First off, thanks for having me here today. I'm excited to, as anybody that knows me talk about skills and what that means in today's world of work and as a proud Hoosier. Happy to say I do have both, actually. I moved to Indiana about 18 months ago with this calling of over 15, 20 years at the national level on workforce and education to get to real practical solutions driven by manufacturing economy, so what better place than to start home at Indiana?

Kofi Darku:                   That's right, we appreciate you.

J McNelly:                    You Bet. Happy to Happy to be here.

Kofi Darku:                   What can you paint a little picture or a more clear picture of your national experience?

J McNelly:                    Sure. I have had the pleasure of serving in a number of capacities at the national level and have this pretty interesting background of public and private sector experience. Most recently as the head of the Manufacturing Institute, which is the national think tank, part of the National Association of Manufacturers, so a lot of the data and statistics that surround manufacturing. There's not a point I'm not going to make here that's not grounded somewhere in a piece of research and 10 years of trending. I equally, have had the opportunity to serve. I affectionately refer to it as my time in service at the US Department of Labor where my initial engagement was over industry engagement during the Bush administration, you know, interacted with over 4,000 industries, executives from every one of our sectors.

Kofi Darku:                   Four thousand?

J McNelly:                    Four thousand. Four thousand plus and then actually my last posting was as the administrator over the regional offices, so the $15,000,000,000 publicly funded workforce investment system. So the lens from which I always talk about skills is really a jobs perspective. It's really from an economic opportunity and advancement and what do we need to do to align public policy to open up opportunity and to advance individuals economically grounded in a good job.

Kofi Darku:                   We're so happy you're on our show because that's what we're trying to do. Those opportunities. We're trying to make sure our employees are aware of them as well as the workforce. So we're. I'm really looking forward to the conversation we have today. Before we dig into that though, can we talk about favorite past times, maybe a sports team that you're a fan of? Can, can you share with us what is your favorite sport or who is your favorite sports team?

J McNelly:                    So I do have a favorite sports team and I'll admit in most circumstances I'm fairly ignorant on the sports front, but when it comes to a favorite sports team without a doubt, the Cleveland Indians

Kofi Darku:                   Oh, tribe.

J McNelly:                    Go tribe. Go tribe. In fact I have, um, last year, um, I was at game six of the world series was a very sad day, but I was the enthusiastic fan that was yelling at everybody around me saying, keep it together man. Let's go go tribe. But I also have, we for one of the games last summer actually had t-shirts printed up. I, I have, you know, every time there's a change I have somebody's shirt. So it started with Kenny Lofton and Francisco Lindor, Frankie or Smiley is my current. So he's my boyfriend. He doesn't know it but that's okay. But we had t-shirts printed up with Frankie's number on it and on the back it said Lynn Sanity. And we took actually a family photo at one of the Games and posted it up and put it in, put his Hashtag in, which, you know, for any major sports guy, almost nothing ever shows up and I actually have a picture of being at the top of Francisco Lindor's Twitter feed.

Kofi Darku:                   Well, well well

J McNelly:                    Yea, so there's me and my family with our Lynn Sanity shirts on. And it was pretty cool. It was lots of fun so.

Kofi Darku:                   You got great exposure in Puerto Rico then.

J McNelly:                    Yeah!

Kofi Darku:                   Viva Puerto Rico. 

J McNelly:                    And you know, if it's summertime, it's baseball, it's fall, it's world series. Go tribe.

Kofi Darku:                   Go tribe. Well, yes, there's national league representation and American League. I will not get into my team at this in this episode, Adam, I don't expect you to as well, but love it that we could touch on the sports. Um, today's episode, we're talking about how your work world is changing. The world of work is changing around us, especially from the standpoint of not only the workforce itself, the talent, but from the company's perspective. Let's start with the workforce, Jennifer. Um, can you talk about what's changing in the world of human capital and what's going on in the world of talent?

J McNelly:                    Sure. Happy to Kofi and I do think this is an incredibly important conversation because we are at a unique point in history and I think it's something that employers are just starting to understand and equally something that's being driven by the changing dynamics of a multigenerational workforce. So for the first time, since I think about 1969, we have more open jobs than we have people looking. Yeah, that's a pretty staggering number. What are we going to do as an economy? It has true impacts for the country, for our standard of living and for how we're actually dealing with talent. That's one of the dynamics that's going on. The second, and I'm a numbers Gal, so I'm sorry, I'm going to throw out a bunch of statistics.

Kofi Darku:                   We tend to be light on the stats and data, so please indulge us.

J McNelly:                    Have at it? Have at it. So if you were to look at manufacturing today, 85 percent of our nation's manufacturers can't find the workers they need to be competitive, equally willing to pay more and in the context of that, um, willing to train. So that's one data point. The other has to do with the retirement of the baby boomers and I feel like this is one of those chicken little, the sky is falling, that's been happening for quite some time.

Kofi Darku:                   Before you dig into that, we are often looking for an untapped pool of talent as we always talk about baby boomers. Yes, they're retiring and they're retiring in large numbers, but still some of them are looking for part time opportunities. So before you gave that response, I just wanted to say that this show realizes we need to still somehow figure out how to use the baby boomers as they transition into this next part of their life.

J McNelly:                    So let me dump the data point on you and then let me share my perspective on a dynamic that's going on. So first off, 10,000 turn 65 every day and that's going to continue until 2030. They are leaving.

Kofi Darku:                   10,000.

J McNelly:                    10,000 a day. So look at the magnitude of that number. That's one thing. The other thing is Kofi, exactly what you've said, their expectations of the world of work has changed, so individuals are staying in the labor force longer, but they want to contribute in a very different way. So I often find myself in conversations around the millennials and what their expectations are of the world of work and they want to work on their time. they want to be recognized for their contribution. they want to understand the value of what they're contributing. Completely mirrors the boomers. We all of a sudden have this book end of the workforce with similar expectations. That is not how the world of work has been designed. It's not how shifts are set up, it's not how recognition happens. It's fundamentally shaking what is the world of work today, and that to me is one of those things that employers haven't quite grappled with yet. So in that context, if you're to unpack it, so baby boomers have a set of expectations very similar to the millennials, both important contributors. And to your point, Kofi, we need everybody. We need everybody fully participating, but then you add on things like average half life of a skill. There's an entire ramification of what that means in the world of work with the rapid pace of changing technology. So half life of a skill right now is five years. What does that mean? You are retraining your workforce. Every five years.

Kofi Darku:                   I mean, what's. What's really key about what you're saying is from an employee standpoint or perspective, I'm realizing that, okay, yeah, I may have to develop skills more so than what I came out of college with. You know, I may need to, but I think one thing that's really interesting about this conversation is that employers don't often think about how they're going to have to reinvest. They want to think it's a onetime investment. I think most times, and so you're bringing up a very, very critical point here in terms of how the work world, the employers and the companies need to probably start thinking about people skills and how long they last.

J McNelly:                    Well and where you access them, how you access them, how many of them you need on any given point in time, and the relevance of the traditional education system, so we have an education system that was designed to be linear to celebrate points of completion. We now are in a work world where there's nothing but lifelong learning, so if you're going to constantly reskill, what does that mean to the traditional milestone of a high school diploma, of a baccalaureate degree? We are no longer an economy driven by sheep skin. It actually should be driven by skills and competencies, which then I think Kofi actually opens up a really important avenue to 76 million Americans living at or below the poverty level and no opportunity to reengage back.

Kofi Darku:                   So happy you brought that up.

J McNelly:                    Yeah.

Adam Scholtes:            Jennifer, on this topic, so how do we change the employee, the employer behavior around the education attainment for a certain job? Um, whether that be education, whether that be even a drug screening, background checks, things like that. I'll see a lot of customers of mine, okay, they can't find people and, and I'll, I'll look at their drug screening and their background requirements and I'm like, for the work that they're doing, why do we have all of these, um, you're, you're basically self selecting out at that point. How do we, how do we change that behavior for the employer?

J McNelly:                    Yeah, um Adam, that's a good question. So some of it, you know, I realize in some circumstances there are elements where it's not, it's not going to change, it's a safety issue, it's driven by, driven by federal regulation, can't do anything about that. At the same time, I do see a acceptance from an employer perspective of needing to start to change behaviors because they have no choice. Um, I'll use a couple really big movements that have happened. Um, one is the ban the box driven by the Koch brothers and their desire to remove barriers for individuals that are transitioning back from incarceration, reentrance into the workforce. And I do think when you tap into nontraditional labor pools, you get a sense of loyalty that otherwise doesn't exist in the marketplace today. That's one important thing. The other thing is I think driven by society changes and acceptance, and I'll go to the drug screening side and I will admit I don't have a silver bullet around this, but there are states in which personal choice is overruling.

J McNelly:                    I can't imagine a day in which this isn't going to come forward in some court case that's going to change whatever labor law looks like. I think my concern is to your point, you know what's going to be an employer's accommodation and what does that mean from a health and safety environment. That's one of those things that really scares me when drug screening as it relates to a million dollar piece of equipment that can cause a huge safety issue. That's a problem. I also think one of the things that we as a nation, and I had conversations just before I left the institute with manufacturers and we for decades did longitudinal studies around the skills gap and we started to get questions around drug screening and up to 50 percent of the population was getting pulled out because of drug screening. That's a huge number.

J McNelly:                    So we started to benchmark within that and, and I think that's compounded by things like the opioid addiction that we have going on in which there aren't enough services in support of what's been essentially prescription driven addiction and that's a huge challenge because there is for the first time, again back to data points, you know, older white men's long, you know life expectancy is starting to decrease. That has not happened in a very long time. So some of these issues really need to come forward in a public policy conversation in a support system conversation who is liable and accountable. I don't know that I have that answer yet. But it's incredibly complex and as I've experienced in every circumstance, it's not one side or the other. It is not the private sector or the public sector, it'll be a blend of both that overcome some of these challenges we face, but we have to stop hiding behind it.

Adam Scholtes:            Sure. Yeah, that's good.

Kofi Darku:                   Well, it's pretty clear through this conversation that we're seeing the components of our work world and what has changed and what is now forcing the employer to adjust along with it. Um, but for us to dig deeper into one of the basic factors here, let's talk about the fact that if the half life of a skill is five years, uh, if I'm applying the data I just learned accurately in this show, if the half life of the skill is five years, well at some point with all of these opportunities for employment, you're going to be seeking an opportunity that you may not have the skill set or the background for. So a majority of us, if not everybody's coming to these jobs in these job opportunities on prepared. Um, how do we address this?

J McNelly:                    That's a good question. And I never, again, there's not one silver answer, but I will say, you know, part of why I joined 180 Skills had to do with technology. I fundamentally believe that we leverage technology in every aspect of the world of work, but the human capital side, what does it mean for learning and development? So in the world of you're going to show up with one set of skills, Kofi and Adam, you're going to show up with another set of skills and both of you are different and I'm going to put you both in a classroom and take you through and you may be bored to tears and you may be behind and neither one of you want the other one to know where things stand.

Kofi Darku:                   He's, he's likely to be more bored than me.

J McNelly:                    Okay. Fair enough. Fair enough. Someone's going to be bored and someone's not, you know? And then someone in the back like me, you're sitting in the front row is going to ask a million questions and everyone's going to be glad there's a loud mouth in the class, Brown nosing with the teacher.

Kofi Darku:                   That's awesome.

J McNelly:                    But the whole point behind that is learning today and leveraging technology and online education is one of the great equalizers to economic opportunity and advancement in scaling because you don't need one size fits all. You can have what you need and you can have what you need and you can have what I need and through that. But when I think about back to the behaviors of employers and I should acknowledge I'm a big fan of Deloitte and their human capital practice and Bernsin by Deloitte. It's where a lot of my statistics come from. So plug for Deloitte there. Um, I think that, that we don't think about learning in the workplace in the same way yet. They are the largest investor in job training they far outweigh what employers spent is more than than the education sector as a sector.

Kofi Darku:                   See, that's really something to consider. We, we, we often separate that and not think of it as education, but it is essentially the same thing. And it does make me think of these benchmarks that we've historically celebrated that are now becoming not so relevant in terms of how it applies to you getting a job that's really deep for me to really think about, well, companies are spending more on training people than our academic sector.

J McNelly:                    Yeah. Well, and there is a question of where, you know, the lights go blinking, you know, the relevance of traditional academics and their approach and you see, so here in Indiana we have western governors university, you know, competency based education. Again, back to it's not about a piece of paper, it's about skills and how do you demonstrate. And the other thing that I think is important from an employer perspective is how you are hiring and training for potential, not history. What you did in the past is not necessarily a good indication of what you're capable of doing because chances are you weren't given the right opportunity. You didn't have the skills that you needed. If you'd have only had access to what you needed to enhance your skills, who knows where you can go. So I think that's another one of those we have to start and you know, I, I'll admit it's my strength, you know, I'm a Gallup certified strengths coach and I'm forever thinking about the best talent that people can bring and how you maximize what they do best and stop trying to manage them to what they're never going to be good at now living in that zone of strength.

Kofi Darku:                   That's a hard pivot, but I think it's a pivot that's going to gain more popularity hopefully in the next five to ten years. Or asset based as opposed to deficits or what I need you to do, even though I don't think you have that, if you follow what I'm saying.

J McNelly:                    Well and degrees at every level have become a proxy for knowledge and that's just not accurate. Not Accurate at all.

Adam Scholtes:            We were just having this conversation the other day with a person you know, and we're gonna talk to dave and Dave and I both graduated with a sport management degree from ball state. Neither of us are in sports. What does that do for us? I mean, it was, we still learn a lot, but now I would almost argue that that degree now, I mean you're, you're, you're going to a four year school for the connections that you're meeting the people you're meeting and where they all go and that's who you're tapping into. When I have a two month old at home, well he go to a four year school. I don't know. Right. I mean, it isn't worth the money nowadays. I mean, or we're being told to save 200 grand for college, like, for what? I mean it's, I'm very conflicted on that because I mean, I was raised, you're going to go to school, this is what you're going to go do, and then you have to take that and some how morph it into...

Kofi Darku:                   Oh yeah, this point is, is highly debatable in terms of me having a significant education background, workwise and me saying and having blasphemous thoughts about, you know, what I don't know if the four year degree is worth it anymore. You know, there's other things you can do that can get you into the workforce that are going to be as worthwhile as that and it sounds, it sounds or it stands in contradiction to the way most of my friends were raised, you know, we were all told because of expectations and making sure you were connecting young people with the best opportunities you will go to college. But now I find that may not be the best advice for the majority of people that are coming through our pre k through 16 pipeline.

J McNelly:                    This is one of my soapbox issues. So I, I will say I'm the first to argue against somebody that says not everybody needs college. I think my perspective is at the right point in time. That's good that it is not about the traditional path of p-16, it's about relevance to where you want to get and getting the skills you need to get there and having it be clean, clear and transparent because you do not. So first off, I think we all have to accept that everybody's going to go to college is a cultural issue in this country. We, you know, I am a product of two parents, my father with an eighth grade education and thank God for the navy and his service during World War Two. That was my father's education. My mother is a first generation immigrant from Iceland with a high school diploma and both of them had perspectives on what was gonna happen and within my full family of 12 of which even my immediate five great blend, a great American blended family, um not all of us went to college and those that didn't or took a trade path still have a complex about not as good as. And that is a result of how society as judged them not their capabilities. And one of my sisters is one of the top aestheticians in Washington. DC has done facials for the stars and been in Vogue magazine, but yet society looks at her different. Well, the women that give her money probably don't, but my point is we make judgments on the dignity of work and one's contribution and that's a cycle we need to break. Like if I had, if money were no issue, my ad campaign, you know, from the Department of Education and Department of Labor would be change the public conversation to make education linked to economic advancement and the relevance of it and government feel free to step up and do that because nobody else is going to take that issue on.

J McNelly:                    You know, it's the equivalent of the Smokey the Bear campaign forever ago where they don't litter, but it truly is a perception driven by cycles of dislocation. So the other thing that I think comes into play here is we operate in a global economy and that's not gonna change even in today's administration with what's going on in a regulatory environment. It is a global economy and it's what allows us to be competitive. Yet we haven't reacted or figured out and I think it's mostly impacted by the adult learners that may have been impacted by it by a change and had no way in which to go get skills and reenter into the workforce. So that it all comes back to how am I viewed? How hard is it for me to walk on a campus if I'm 50 something that's going to rock somebody's world and that's the point at which you're paying for college and worrying about your kids and, and life is happening, but yet you need to feel comfortable getting the skills you need to be successful in the world of work.

Kofi Darku:                   Yeah. This is a great conversation. I'm so happy everyone is in the room with us today. As we discussed this, Jennifer let's, uh, try and land this beautiful conversation with some type of call to action. If there was some type of directive or guidance you could give to our audience, what would it be?

J McNelly:                    So my guidance to the audience would be to question the process both from an individual student/potential employee perspective. And from an employer perspective. If you keep doing the same thing you've always done, you're going to be in trouble. So assume that new innovation needs to happen. I think it happens on the hiring front. I think it happens on the access to knowledge. I think you know so for so long we wait for perfection, and if we were to clearly send a market signal, that's what people are going to respond to signals in the marketplace. Here's what it takes to get a job here. People will respond, they're interested. So I do think question behavior, change behavior, open up access.

Kofi Darku:                   Awesome. Well, in a very clear way, you're helping us leading talent to thrive, both from the employer standpoint and from the employee standpoint. So we're going to continue to push that. And thank you for talking with us today.

J McNelly:                    Excellent. Thanks for having me. And thanks for what you guys are doing. I do think, um, you know, Morales Group plays an important role in opening up opportunities for individuals that otherwise may not have them. So thank you and thanks for having me here. Today was fun.

Kofi Darku:                   I'm telling you what, that episode was. Fire.

Adam Scholtes:            Phenomenal. Yeah Kofi,  I, I love this podcast, this episode. Um, I loved her talking about the cultural issue today is, uh, in quotations, everybody's got to go to college. That's, you know, that's, I, I, I truly believe that's, that is an issue right now. And that's a mindset that even I struggled with.

Kofi Darku:                   Oh, it's hurting our work world and how people are preparing for the workforce, in my opinion.

Adam Scholtes:            Absolutely. And then how about the call to action at the end? Question the process. I'm a process guy and it makes me even question my own process as I'm hiring folks.

Kofi Darku:                   And we are continuing to connect you with some very helpful tools and insights that are helping you adjust to the fact that your work world is changing. Continue to stay engaged with this conversation. Remember, #skillupbuildup. I'm telling you all, there is a very important purpose to this episode and to this show overall. The war for talent is real. Skill up build up is a place to connect with business and community leaders to surface forward thinking solutions for a better skilled workforce to compete in the 21st century.