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Tuesday, Jul 16, 2024
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OC Leader Board: Employees that Add to Company Cultures

Editor’s Note: Nicole Suydam is CEO and president of Goodwill of Orange County, the largest nonprofit in Orange County with almost 2,000 employees and volunteers and $166.5 million in revenue for the year ended June 30, 2022.

Suydam has appeared on the OC50, the Business Journal’s annual list of 50 most influential executives in Orange County. Goodwill of OC will celebrate its centennial in 2024. The Business Journal’s stand-alone annual publication, OC Philanthropy, is included with this week’s publication.

Dwayne one day showed up at our Veterans Services program insecure about his food and housing situations.

We started his journey with a Career Scope Assessment that developed an Individual Employment Plan—all with the goal of achieving his life-long dream of becoming a long-haul trucker.

Following enrollment and successfully obtaining his Class A license, Dwyane was able to secure gainful employment with Western Express as a long-haul semi-truck driver.

Throughout his journey, the Goodwill OC team was also able to provide him with numerous supported services related to housing assistance, vehicle repairs and food and gas cards, enabling him to focus on his career development instead of necessities. Today, Dwayne has a steady career and strong income stream.

Dwayne is just one of many Goodwill OC success stories that show how these workforce development programs work in and support our community. Each person we serve has their own story to tell. In 2022, Goodwill OC served more than 21,500 individuals and provided 20,000 hours of job coaching.

Necessary Services

Many conversations I have with community members start with an anecdote about thrifting, shopping or donating.

People share the unique items they found at one of our stores or the giant haul they brought to a donation center after a big spring cleaning. They tell us that they are thrilled to have the benefit of our services in Orange County.

Through those conversations, it has become clear to me that many in our community do not have a full understanding of what those services and benefits are—or even why they are necessary.

In 2018, I was honored to be appointed CEO and president of Goodwill OC. Every day for the last five years, my team and I have worked to solve and support a singular issue in Orange County: workforce development for people with barriers to employment.

While a big part of that work involves ensuring that our stores are open, staffed and stocked with donated goods, the biggest part of the work and its impact comes from how those stores and donations fuel our social enterprise.

The need for workforce development in our own community is greater than ever.

Unemployment in Orange County has been creeping upwards, registering 3.6% in July, compared to 3.2% in the same month year ago, according to the state’s Economic Development Department.

Even with unemployment on the rise and more people available to work, businesses are still experiencing issues finding and securing qualified job candidates.

Interestingly, the solution could be right under our noses.

People with disabilities disproportionately represent the unemployed and under-employed population. In 2021, only about 19% of people with at least one disability were employed, and the employment rate is more than three times larger for those without a disability, according to an article published by the Center for American Progress.

About 30% of workers with a disability were employed part time, compared to only 16% for those with no disability, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said.

Students with disabilities face disadvantages from day one. For example, such students in Orange County score, on average, 44% lower on standardized ELA testing and 33% lower on standardized mathematics testing than students in Orange County overall, according to 2020-21 data from the California Department of Education.

These statistics indicate these students are not being given proper, specialized attention to equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the real world.

Typically, when we think of disabilities, we envision those that are visible—perhaps someone who utilizes a wheelchair. Many debilitating conditions are not obvious, including chronic illnesses, PTSD and other mental health disorders and even severe allergies that can affect a person’s ability to work or develop a successful career path.

With all of this in mind, the question becomes clear: how can we create an inclusive and successful workforce in Orange County?

Solutions Sought

The solution is twofold.

First, we need to create a cultural shift in how we look at hiring. For many years, the paradigm has been to find someone who is a culture fit.

Instead, what if we start looking at candidates as potential culture adds?

As a community, we can shift our perspective to see how differing abilities can add to, not diminish, a culture. By creating a workplace that is truly representative of the entire community, we create a stronger workforce.

To meet current business needs, we must also shift our mindset to focus on candidates who have the skills necessary to do the job, rather than fit the mold.

The Society for Human Resource Management recently reported that HR professionals are forecasting a rise in skills-based hiring—meaning there will be an increased focus on candidates’ core competencies and skills, rather than traditional criteria like college degrees and work experience.

Second, we need to equip our local talent pool with these necessary skills to fill available jobs in Orange County.

Orange County has more than 18,000 job openings for software developers and analysts, more than 21,000 openings for registered nurses, and more than 15,000 openings for retail salespersons, each requiring specialized skills and training, according to the 2022-2023 Orange County Community Indicators Report.

Today, many in Orange County are underemployed. With the right job skilling and career pathways, they could receive certifications, degrees and training that will result in higher-paying and higher-level jobs—like the ones available in our community today.

Goodwill OC is an important piece of solving this workforce development puzzle. We offer more than 20 programs that focus on developing the types of skills needed for local jobs, while also meeting the needs, abilities and goals of the individual job seeker. Job coaches and employment specialists provide a tailored pathway to independence and sustainable employment.

For some, that means starting with a paid internship or volunteer opportunity. For others, it means identifying the right job opportunities that they are ready and qualified for right here in Orange County.

In my role, I’ve had the benefit of seeing how well Goodwill’s programs work and the positive impact they have, not only on the individuals we serve, but also the local economy.

Our mission to connect people with opportunity is clear—and it’s working.

We cannot do it alone. With the support of the business community, we will continue to elevate Orange County’s workforce and economy.

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.
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