A “Win-Win-Win:” Research shows impact of private-public partnerships in job training

Photo courtesy Cameron Karsten Photography for Seattle Colleges 2018 marketing campaign at Seattle Central College.

Seattle is enjoying impressively low unemployment rates—the lowest point in 2018 so far was 2.8 percent in April. With so few workers to go around, how is an employer to fill open positions?

The answer to that question, for many employers, is investing in workforce development—that is, making sure that prospective future employees are trained and prepared to fill in-demand positions.

According to a new study from the National Skills Coalition, about 80 percent of jobs in the U.S. require candidates to have some form of training or education beyond high school. This doesn’t mean that most workers will be required to get a four-year degree to be successful. About 53 percent of jobs in our labor market are “middle skill,” meaning they require training beyond high school but not a college degree, according to the same study. However, only 43 percent of workers have the training they need to qualify for these middle skill jobs.

The need for middle skilled workers is apparent in several important industries right here in King County: the Seattle Jobs Initiative projects that there will be shortages of hundreds of workers to fill openings in teaching, nursing and computer support in the coming years, for example.

In order to fill these positions, employers are joining forces with community partners to connect adults with the skills they need to be successful. Community colleges have proven to be particularly effective partners in workforce development efforts locally, and across the country.

Through the Office of Economic Development’s investment in the Seattle Colleges’ Center for Working Adults, (CWA)  the college is working to ramp up its capacity for public-private partnerships. For employers, CWA represents a pivotal partner for talent recruitment, retention, and advancement.

Seattle Colleges have a legacy of developing effective employer-training partnerships. For example, Vigor Industrial is the leading provider of shipbuilding, complex fabrication and ship repair and conversion in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska; they need welders. South Seattle College leases training space from Vigor, administers a welding program, and pays instructor salaries. Vigor currently hires about 50 percent of the students into welding, fitting, fabricating, and other trades positions, and has a list of other employers that other grads are often referred to. An entry-level employee can expect to make an average of $21 per hour as a pre-apprentice.

As a recent report from the Seattle Jobs Initiative details, local private-public partnerships in job training, like Vigor’s, are a win-win-win situation for all parties involved. Colleges improve the quality and relevance of their training programs, students improve their employment prospects, and employers secure a pipeline of workers who have the specific skills they need.

Participating in job training programs saves businesses money. The Seattle Jobs Initiative’s study of Shoreline College’s program, for example, found that businesses saved thousands of dollars on both training and labor costs. Partnering with community organizations is especially helpful for small businesses, which are less able to shoulder the costs of training staff on their own.

The Office of Economic Development continues to support partnerships that bridge the skills gap between workers and employers. Have questions or ideas? Reach out to us at oed@seattle.gov.

Career exploration day connects youth to opportunity in the maritime industry

Students aboard the SS Virginia V.

This summer, the Youth Maritime Collaborative’s first-ever South Lake Union Day event provided a chance for youth who are participating in internships or training programs to learn about maritime career opportunities, get hands-on experience with real maritime skills, and explore the history behind transportation and industry in the Puget Sound region.

Sponsored by the Port of Seattle, the all-day event featured hands-on activities from SS Virginia V and partnering organizations including The Center for Wooden Boats, Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), Northwest Seaport, and Puget Sound Maritime. Over a hundred students from six local youth-serving organizations—King County Airport interns, Goodwill Youth Maritime Program, WA-BLOC (Washington Building Leaders of Change), Seattle Skills Center Vessel Operations Program, Port of Seattle and SS Virginia V–split into groups and rotated through several stations throughout the day.

At the first station, students boarded the historic Virginia V and were taken on a voyage around Lake Union. Crewmembers provided narration of departure and docking procedures, gave tours of the engine room and wheelhouse, and performed demonstrations of knot tying and firefighting basics.

A scavenger hunt inside MOHAI was a chance for students to explore the exhibit and learn about local maritime history. The Center for Wooden Boats’ station gave students a chance to row out together on an umiaq (a type of open skin boat, similar to a canoe, historically used by Yupik and Inuit peoples), while Northwest Seaport’s station took students aboard the 1911 halibut schooner, Tordenskjold, to learn about the fishing industry.

Students on the Virginia V learn about the engine’s operations from a crewmember.

The value of this kind of career exploration was clear from speaking with one student aboard the Virginia V expedition. A high schooler enrolled in Freedom School, the student got to know a few crewmembers and had the chance to ask them questions about the ship’s operations. The student expressed a goal of majoring in mechanical engineering at Washington State University: “I don’t really know what I want to do in mechanical engineering, but it’s something I definitely have an interest in.” Crewmembers were eager to answer the student’s many questions about their work, particularly in the engine room, where the student’s interest in engineering was apparent as he asked about all of the vessel’s many moving parts.

On his way out, one of the crewmembers said goodbye to the student with a handshake and a pamphlet with information about the Virginia V’s volunteer program, saying, “Hopefully I’ll see you here in a couple weeks!” Coming into South Lake Union Day, the student didn’t know that volunteering at a place like the Virginia V was an option. Now, he has personal connections with the crew and knows that he will be welcomed back.

That student, and many others like him, left South Lake Union Day with a new understanding of the maritime industry and the careers they could pursue in the field. Over one third of students who responded to an after-event survey said that they are now more interested in pursuing a maritime career than they were before the experience.

Maritime is a huge and vital industry with an aging workforce. In response to this growing need for workers in the industry, the Youth Maritime Collaborative was founded in 2016, comprised of members from the Port of Seattle, regional maritime organizations, youth serving organizations, industry leaders, educational programs and local government agencies. As a team, YMC works to increase awareness of and guide youth toward maritime-related careers through experiential events, high school internships and thoughtful career exploration.

The Office of Economic Development’s partnership with YMC is part of a larger effort to provide opportunities that give young people a window into Seattle’s economy and how they can join the maritime workforce. Employer tours, experiential learning events, and internships expose youth to maritime education and career pathways; events like South Lake Union Day show students first-hand that there are exciting, rewarding, living-wage jobs waiting for them in maritime that they may have otherwise never known about.

Have ideas for other career exploration experiences, or interested in finding out about upcoming events? Contact us at oed@seattle.gov.

Small Business of the Month: Sphere Solar Energy

Sphere Solar Energy owner Edwin Ngugi Wanji stands in front of the solar panel system his company installed for Hellbent Brewing Company.

Growing up in Kenya, Edwin Ngugi Wanji says he was the kind of kid who was always “trying to figure out how stuff works.” “A solar panel on my mom’s little calculator was always very fascinating to me, and I pulled a lot of those out as a kid,” he remembers. Edwin is now the owner and founder of Sphere Solar Energy, a small business that installs solar energy systems for clients across the region, and for communities around the world.

After a childhood spent dissecting calculators, cameras and radios, Edwin arrived in the United States and got a job working on a construction site, where he began working his way up in the field and picking up expertise along the way. He started working in solar energy about eight years ago, and left his job to start his own company three years ago. “The fact that we can fully solar power homes in Seattle, 100 percent, in the cloudy weather, was just a big, ‘Whoa! We can do this anywhere,’” Edwin says of his decision to go into the industry.

He took the leap into entrepreneurship out of a desire to do things his own way, and to pursue his philanthropic vision: “My goal was, you know, just a global goal, making solar energy more accessible to communities that typically would consider solar energy very expensive, and maybe are the ones who actually have trouble with those recurring costs, those energy bills.”

Sphere Solar Energy buys most of its solar panels directly from Pacific Northwest manufacturers and provides its customers both a 10-year warranty and yearly maintenance and service

Edwin shows OED staff the meter that monitors Hellbent Brewing’s solar energy system. On sunny summer days, the system generates excess power which gets fed into the surrounding power grid (and earns extra money for the business).

inspections for the systems it installs. The warranty is rarely needed, however, Edwin says: “Solar is very reliable and very low maintenance. It doesn’t go down.”

Edwin has big plans for his business: he hopes to work with more commercial-scale clients, such as the project Sphere Solar Energy recently completed at Hellbent Brewing Company in Lake City. With 72 solar panels on its roof, Hellbent is now home to the largest solar system on a brewery in Washington State and generates 30 percent of its energy. Edwin is particularly interested in working on projects with local schools so that he can involve the students in the projects—having early experience with solar energy means the kids will be more likely to apply the technology in their future.

Edwin didn’t make a profit on Sphere Solar Energy’s early projects, at first just trying to get his name out there and prove the quality of his work to attract more customers. As one of very few immigrant-owned, black-owned solar energy companies (“I think I’m the only one!”), Edwin built his business within a society that isn’t set up for his success. “Some people will see your name and go, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to work with you.’ That’s life, you know. Same way as if I went to apply for a job somewhere. They might see my name and automatically, I’m out.”

People of color who start their own businesses often face barriers in accessing loans as well, as Edwin has experienced: “For instance, if I need to buy tools or anything, I need to pay cash. I put money away and go buy it.”

At the same time, Edwin appreciates that he is in a unique position to help others pursue a similar path. While working on the Hellbent Brewery system, Edwin and Hellbent owner Jack Guinn invited low-income teens from the Lake City neighborhood to job shadow for a day. Edwin hopes that by seeing someone they can relate to—someone who arrived in the U.S. with $40 in his wallet—being successful in the field, kids will be able to see themselves working in the industry someday too.

Edwin’s humanitarian efforts go far beyond just his own neighborhood. He is passionate about growing his company’s philanthropic efforts, since even small systems can make a huge difference to communities around the world that don’t have existing infrastructure. “A system that I can put on a house here [in Seattle], over there, three or four hundred kids would benefit from it,” he explains, describing a planned project for a school in Haiti.

His team has already completed a project in Kenya and has a project in the works in Haiti. Edwin says the impact of the new systems is clear and immediate. “I built a system in Kenya that’s pretty much running irrigation. So, a journey that took people a few hours just to pull water from point A to B, now is seven gallons a minute.”

Whether it’s in Kenya or in Seattle, Sphere Solar Energy’s mission is to make energy affordable and accessible to the people who need it the most. “I know the struggle to pay my power bills when I was broke. I can imagine the mother with families, assisted living, you know, barely making ends meet,” Edwin says. “It’s like, ‘Hey, this $200 a month can go towards other things.”

You can learn more about Sphere Solar Energy—and how you may be able to put your monthly energy bill towards other things—on their website, or by connecting with them on Facebook.

Zillow Group’s Shadow an Intern Day inspires youth to think creatively about their careers

A Zillow Group employee leads a student tour.

This summer, Zillow Group hosted an innovative new event for local high school students aimed at helping kids envision their future careers and learn skills to set themselves up for success. The “Shadow an Intern” event brought high schoolers from TAF Academy, YWCA, and the Seattle Housing Authority to Zillow Group’s downtown headquarters.

“Giving back to the community where we live and work is an important part of who we are at Zillow Group,” said Samantha Tripoli, Social Impact Manager, Zillow Group. “By hosting students from a variety of organizations across the area – including our Home Project partner Seattle Housing Authority – it is our goal to introduce them to careers in STEM that are within their reach, right here in their backyard.”

To start the day, the kids split into groups and paired up with current Zillow Group interns and employees who guided their groups up and down the tower of office space, answering questions and introducing staff from teams across the company. Meeting the different departments gave students the chance to see the breadth of their career options at a big company like Zillow Group—they could be a storyteller on the communications team, a hacker with the security team, an economist on the data analysis team, an event planner on the facilities team, and much more.

A panel of Zillow Group employees presents to the group of students.

The tour was followed by a short panel with a few Zillow Group employees who shared their career stories and advice on looking for jobs. One panelist encouraged students to get to know people in companies or industries that they are interested in, since having a connection can help get one name to the top of a stack of hundreds of applications. Another advised the youth to “spend a lot of time prepping for interviews, get to know the company,” speaking to her own experience in what she looked for as a hiring manager.

After lunch, the kids split into groups again for an afternoon spent working on a new product and designing a website to market their idea. Working with a Zillow Group staff member, the students came up with a concept for a new home product, created a prototype, and prepared a three-minute commercial. The students then got a crash course in coding by working one-on-one with a Zillow Group intern to build a webpage for their new product.

The high schoolers ended their day by reflecting on what they learned and thinking about what job they would want at Zillow Group. (After a day spent looking out at the tower’s Elliot Bay views, plus the never-ending snacks from Zillow Group’s many staff kitchens, the consensus seemed to be “I definitely want to work here one day,” as one student put it.)

Zillow Group’s Shadow an Intern event was a creative way to get young people excited about their future careers, which is especially important for students coming from low-income households who might be lacking connections, resources and career support from their family. The Office of Economic Development looks forward to working with Zillow Group and other employers in the future to connect youth with internships and other career experiences.

While not every business has the means to host interns through the City’s youth employment program, employers can always find creative ways to support Seattle’s future workforce. To get ideas on how you can connect with your next generation of employees, reach out to us at oed@seattle.gov.

Startup Seattle Stories: Bellom

Bellom CEO Jyde Ojo and COO Karina Krivenko.

If there is a “usual way” people meet their future business partners—maybe in business school, or at a networking event—then Jyde Ojo and Karina Krivenko did not meet that way. They met at a salsa dancing class three years ago. The pair now runs Bellom, an app that allows users to coordinate cleaning, pet care, meal prep and more.

The Bellom CEO and COO don’t appear to have a lot in common at first glance, besides that they are both immigrants to the United States. Jyde’s background is in tech; he moved to Washington for a job with Microsoft, where he worked for years before leaving to start his own social media platform aimed at the Christian community in 2004 (pre-dating Facebook, as he notes). Karina moved here from Russia six years ago and has a more varied professional history, having worked in every industry from beauty to heavy machinery, typically in “a support role, operations role, making sure everything runs smoothly and easily.”

Spend some time talking with the two and you’ll notice that beyond their immigrant backgrounds, they also share a common energy and curiosity, both always focused on moving Bellom forward. Throughout our conversation, the two trade off finishing each other’s sentences and asking me about my opinions on Bellom’s services.

Karina says that the idea for Bellom originated with Jyde trying to find a way to simplify his own busy life. “About a year ago Jyde shared his challenges in just a simple task, you would think: scheduling housecleaning. And it was such a, just a mess, trying to coordinate your schedule, and get a quote, and it’s so inconvenient, and they cancel on you, and you’re overpaying…” she explains. “He was describing all that, and he came up with an idea of creating something simple, a solution that will let you basically do all your chores seamlessly, in a few clicks. And so he started building the app that we’re using now.”

Bellom users can schedule and coordinate pet care, laundry, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and even ordering fresh flowers through the app. Customers aren’t obligated to sign up for a monthly subscription, and the app advertises simple pricing without surprise service fees.

Jyde explains that Bellom’s services are useful for over-worked techies, a demographic he can relate to: “When you work for companies like Microsoft, Amazon, you are working a lot…you code all night long. And as a result, you don’t have time for anything.” The goal of Bellom is to provide a “new approach to living for busy people, for busy professionals,” so that workers have leisure time to enjoy the money they’re earning. Jyde and Karina also see the service being useful for people who are less able to perform household tasks on their own, such as seniors and people with disabilities.

Karina and Jyde both have years of business acumen that have served them well in starting Bellom, and they also point to working with the Office of Economic Devlopment’s Startup Advocate, David Harris, as critical to their success. “One of the greatest things that OED has been helpful for us, is [making] connections,” says Jyde.

“David connected us with the Women’s Fund in Portland, and he’s been advising Jyde on other sources as well,” continues Karina. “We never would have met [our mentor], ever, otherwise, without a soft introduction from David.” Their business mentor is a Seattle angel investor, who now is serving on Bellom’s advisory board. Through working with David, Jyde and Karina met investors and entrepreneurs throughout Seattle and California, and built a network of people to call on for help and advice. “That support system, it’s priceless,” says Jyde.

“OED has been very very instrumental in our core survival and for us to be where we are,” Jyde says of working with David. Karina continues, “I come from a country where if you are a small business, you are in constant survival mode. It’s not because it’s hard and there’s competition, it’s because the government is trying to shut you down. Not helping you, just the opposite. So to me, [OED’s support] is a blessing.”

Karina describes Seattle’s startup scene as “hard, but exciting.” “There is a lot of help, definitely, that’s created by the City for example. But there’s also just huge competition, because just like Silicon Valley, this place is filled with smart people. And they’re all trying to start something new.”

Even in the face of all that competition, Jyde and Karina advise aspiring startup owners to dive in. “Do it now, don’t wait for the stars to align, because they won’t, ever,” Karina says. “Something will always come up, and something won’t be right, but just, give it some more, strategize, get feedback. Talk to people, get opinions, refine your strategy and go get it.

She continues, “You will always fail. As long as you learn from it and do something better next time, they’re learning opportunities.” Jyde responds, “If you’re coming back up, they’re not failures.”

Learn more about OED’s resources on our Startup Seattle page, and contact Startup Advocate David Harris at david.harris@seattle.gov.