Knack: Reflections and Report on Program Findings
Since 2015 LEDlab has been working with Potluck Cafe Society (Potluck) to initiate an employment platform, Knack, that uses digital badges to showcase the ‘micro-skills’ or ‘assets’ of individuals facing barriers to employment and support them in finding task work with impact-driven companies. The intended outcome of these badges was to recognize employment-related skills in a clear and common language, create incentives for learning new skills and earning more badges, as well as to navigate the possibilities for future jobs through defined training paths.
Anna Migicovsky was hired as part of the first cohort of LEDlab project coordinators in 2015-2016, to work with Potluck to develop and prototype possibilities for Knack. After her internship with LEDlab, Anna was hired on by Potluck to lead Knack. While Anna has recently moved on to a new role outside of the DTES, she recently published a report based on Knack’s activities over the past three years, as a means for evaluating its work and to strategize for the future. The full report can be found here. Potluck will be seeking a replacement for Anna’s role in the coming weeks.
Knack works with 3 major stakeholder groups: Earners, Employers, and Agencies. The term ‘Earner’ refers to job seekers that receive badges for developing employment-related skills. This term acknowledges the hard work associated with earning a badge, as well as the fact that they are on the path to earning an income. Employer refers to hiring managers who understand Knack’s commitment to establishing a supportive work environment for individuals facing barriers to employment, and Agencies are social service agencies and other organizations that assist earners along the income generation continuum. The core of Knack’s activities can be broken down into (1) pre-employment training, (2) categorizing skills via digital badges, (3) employer consulting, (4) online platform, (5) employment coaching, and (6) creating internal supportive jobs.
Below are some of the key highlights, insights and learnings from each of Knack’s core activities:
Pre-employment training: when researching Employers’ top priorities for new employees, we found that skills that enable employee retention are the most desirable (which we termed Soft Skills). The main value of the workshop series was that it allowed the Knack team to get to know job seekers in a friendly and supportive environment, many community members benefited from connections with peers and with the facilitator. This ultimately helped us to connect Earners with jobs suited to their needs. Training needs to be tied to specific job pipelines, tailored to industry.
- Overview of stakeholder involvement:
- Earners: 200 people contacted Knack in response to gaining income and attending workshops; of these, 75 participate in at least one Knack workshop and 53 completed a soft skills workshop series.
- Employers: 131 had shown interest in the program; of these, 54 met with Knack to discuss potential jobs and best social hiring practices and 28 used Knack to recruit workers
- Agencies: 90 agencies connected with Knack via email/mailing list connections; of these, 45 met in person to discuss involvement and referral processes and 24 have actively recruited for Knack.
Categorizing skills via digital badges: we need to employ experts to determine a methodology for benchmarking and standardizing employment-related skills, as well as significant buy-in from Agencies to develop a robust and resilient badging ecosystem. Privacy concerns are a significant barrier to sharing information on job seekers on a shared platform or database.
Employer Consulting: there needs to be more advocacy on behalf of the target population, as there is considerable false information and stigma surrounding poverty and the income assistance system. Many businesses experience very real labour shortages, but also have limited time and money to allocate to social hiring. Many HR policies are rigid and offer little to no flexibility when it comes to accommodating the target population. Given these challenges, it may be difficult for Knack to effectively serve both Employers and Earners.
Online Platform: technology could help us to track metrics; send reminders; and manage sustainable relationships with employers, job-seekers and agency partners. It could also assist with payment processing, provided research is conducted on the effect this would have on income assistance. However, a personal level of connection is important for this sector, unless we redefine our target population or off-load this personalized approach to Agency partners. We need to continue to record the process of match-making, which would inform efforts to scale up the operation. This would also help us to test our assumptions regarding the number of employers with jobs that fit our target population.
Employment Coaching: In addition to group activities, Earners need one-on-one support. Coaches could be hired to provide emotional support to Earners as they find employment that suits their needs.
Creating Internal Supportive Jobs: training and creating transitional employment opportunities comes at a cost to the social enterprise. Relationship-building is essential for developing supportive employment opportunities. We experienced tension between providing comfortable employment opportunities and creating resiliency within the Earner to manage change. There is a lack of back-end business software used in social enterprises to assist growth and maintain accuracy in operational activities (e.g. HR).
One of the challenges faced by Knack since the start was resolving the tension of clarifying its problem space within the complex system of employment, while continuing to build a solution to address it. Hence, this report was meant to allow a stepback and reflection so as to welcome feedback from the community as Potluck contemplates next steps. Given the growth of the social hiring movement at both the local and national level, as well as the growth of Potluck itself, its an exciting time to assess how Knack can fit in the broader employment landscape. For any insights, comments, or questions you can contact Knack directly here!
Thank you, Anna, for all your hard work!
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