Steve Preston is the President & CEO of Goodwill Industries International, the world’s leading workforce provider. He leads a team of around 140,000 employees across the United States.
Prior to his current role Steve served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as the Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration.
He orchestrated successful turnarounds as the CEO of two private corporations, Oakleaf Global Holdings and Livingston International and he was the CFO of two Fortune 500 companies — Waste Management and ServiceMaster.
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The world looks very different today than it did just over a year ago. The pandemic and other world events have had long-lasting effects on the way we live and work. Steve’s role at Goodwill has put him in the unique position of not only having to address these issues inside of his own organization, but because one of Goodwill’s main operations is workforce development and job placement, he has had to pay attention to how things are changing in all industries.
Goodwill has 650 job centers around the country where people can go to get training development, coaching, and job placement services.
One major trend Steve has been focused on is the acceleration of job displacement due to Covid-19.
As he shares, “Before the pandemic, we were very focused on what everybody’s calling the future of work. And that is a significant migration in labor demands by employers that are more focused on technology skills, and other cognitive and relational skills that surround the product development and service delivery. And so many of the forecasters or economists were forecasting that 30 or 35 million jobs would be lost over the next decade. Well, what happened when COVID hit is not only did we see unemployment spike, there were two other phenomena within that, number one, that people who lost their jobs were people with lower levels of education, lower income levels, and disproportionately people of racial and ethnic minorities. And then in addition to that, employers accelerated their adoption of digital technologies, customer interactions, supply chain support, and other kinds of internal management processes.”
Because of both of these situations happening quickly–1. That the people who were most likely going to lose jobs over the course of the next decade lost their jobs in 2020 and 2. Companies accelerated their digital transformations–we are now in a situation where people urgently need digital skills to be able to compete for jobs. We have employers who are looking to upgrade the level of skills for all roles and the people who need jobs right now don’t have those skills.
The future of the office
One thing that we have come to realize over the past year is it is possible to get work done at home. In fact a lot of people are finding they are more productive at home. Organizations are realizing that even though people aren’t physically in the office or always working the traditional 9-5, work is getting done.
So does this realization mean that physical office spaces will disappear in the future? Steve doesn’t think so. While we can work from home, as humans we thrive on interaction, relationship, and connectedness that just isn’t the same when we talk virtually.
Most likely what will happen is a hybrid model that allows people to work from home part of the time while still coming into the office on a regular basis. Whether they are in the office more will depend on the role they have.
Steve says, “I’m definitely thinking about a hybrid model, because I do not want to throw out the human interaction side, I think that’s critical. And I think, you know, especially when you are dealing with complex business issues, and making tough decisions– having trust, having those deep personal relationships, is just, I mean, that’s how leadership functions well, is being having that joint accountability and trust, and being able to move forward together with those situations in place. And pure remote doesn’t do that.”
Steve’s advice for people looking for jobs now
Trying to find work in the middle of a pandemic is hard, it is stressful, and some may feel like it is impossible. But Steve has some great advice for anyone who is looking for a job right now.
First of all, he says it is so important to take care of yourself mentally and emotionally. Don’t let the stress of finding a job or being turned down for a job affect your mood. Spend time with friends, stay engaged, and take care of yourself.
It’s also important to take advantage of the time that you have without a job to build your skills. You don’t have to spend a ton of money on getting a degree, there are so many places to learn these days. Develop skills, specifically digital skills like coding or data. Utilize this time to better yourself so that when the right job opens up you are ready for it.
Bettering yourself can also look good in an interview. When talking with a potential employer when they ask you what you have been doing during your unemployment you will have a great response. You’ll let them know what you’ve been doing to build skills whether it is from online courses, reading books, listening to podcasts, etc…
“Time is precious, you know, and most of us in our lives are always looking for time. And when you’ve got it, the challenge with having time, like unemployment is it’s filled with all sorts of anxiety and urgency. But you have to find space to make it a good time, to come out at the other end in a better position when you entered it.”
Steve also says to look around at the network around you. We all have networks, whether we realize it or not. A conversation with someone you know may lead you to a job. So talk to the people you know, let them know what you are looking for, and who knows it could lead you to something.
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The best skills and mindsets for the future
In this new world of work there are certain skills and mindsets we should focus on. And it is important to have a balance between technology skills and human skills. Being able to walk into a new job and feeling comfortable around their technology whether you have used it or not is beneficial. Specific digital technology skills such as coding, data analytics, Python, Tableau, etc…are good as well.
Basic workplace effectiveness skills are crucial as well. Knowing how to effectively communicate, how to negotiate, how to present yourself, how to listen to others are all key skills if you want to have a successful career.
When it comes to certain industries looking to hire people, Steve says the retail industry is starting to come back. Logistics has stayed strong and IT jobs are always in demand. Hospitality on the other hand–hotels, restaurants, airlines–have not bounced back yet and it could be awhile.
Purpose in business
One thing that Steve is very passionate about is purpose in business. As he shares organizations are large ecosystems with tons of employees who are impacted by the actions of the leaders. So it is crucial for leaders to bring wholeness to organizations and to create cultures that allow people to thrive and grow.
“When you don’t have principled leadership, you see terrible things happen. I was CFO of a large company during the Sarbanes Oxley meltdown in the early 2000s, you saw all kinds of moral issues across the world. I was the HUD Secretary during the housing crisis. And there were all kinds of moral failures across businesses, you know mortgage institutions and in any number of, you know, lenders and people who are in the securitization industry, we need principled leadership and people who have a sense of true north, because in so many ways, great leadership brings flourishing to their organizations and to our communities. And bad leadership causes terrible things, which can result in a systemic breakdown.”
Steve is no stranger to leading in tough times. His advice to leaders right now is to know what the mission of your company is and what you’re hoping to achieve. You have to use that mission and lean into it as a rallying cry for your people. Because, as Steve shares, what happens in a crisis is people are scared, they are confused, and the last thing they need is lack of direction. It is up to you as the leader to provide that direction for them.
Know what your problems are, what are you facing as an organization. Then using your mission and your goals figure out a solution for that problem. And it is so important to keep your employees engaged in the process along the way. Employees want to see what is happening and know what their role is.
“In a crisis can actually be a great time to infuse purpose into the organization and see your employees rise up to to go after that mission.” Leaders have to be open and transparent. People want to know what the truth is and they can tell when you are not being honest. Be decisive, be clear, make a decision, and move forward. Your people want to trust you, and they want to trust that they can follow you as their leader.
Skills in a post-Covid-19 world
Historically many people have been excluded from jobs because they didn’t have a certain degree or a specific amount of experience to even be considered for the role.
But this practice is starting to change. Companies are starting to realize that it is better to focus on skills in recruiting and promotions instead of education, degrees, and specific experience.
Steve says at Goodwill the first thing they do when a candidate walks through the door is they do a skills assessment. Then when working with that person for a desired future role they can help pinpoint what skills the person already has and what skills they will need to work on in order to successfully take on that role.
A lot of times we have a hard time translating our skills into specific roles, we may not even realize that we have a set of skills. One group of people who have a hard time with this are veterans. They don’t usually have college degrees or formal education, but they have phenomenal training, discipline, they have great communication and even leadership skills.
“I am optimistic, because I think we’re reaching more people through what’s kind of opened up over the last nine months, I think, and I’m hopeful that employers will continue to open their minds about how best to fill those roles. And I’m very hopeful that people like Goodwill, and other people in this industry will continue to expand the relevant opportunities for people to get relevant skills for relevant roles.”
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