WPTI’s Business Engagement Learning Lab (BELL) Kicks Off Its 2021 Cohort

WPTI kicked off the first of four sessions of its Business Engagement Learning Lab (BELL) on Tuesday, May 11th.  This year’s diverse cohort includes 33 practitioners from 11 organizations across New York City that serve a wide variety of job seekers.  The participating organizations include city agencies and workforce development providers:

The first session was organized around the theme of Refining Employer Marketing & Outreach.

In a packed 5 hour session, the group covered:

  • The poor labor market situation and limited opportunities in NYC for entry-level workers without a college degree
  • Fierce competition for the attention of New York City’s employers from thousands of staffing agencies, online job boards, the Workforce1 Career Center system, and more than 400 workforce development non-profits.
  • Lessons learned over the past year, perhaps the most challenging environment for job developers in recently history
  • The cultural divide between for-profit employers and non-profit workforce providers as revealed in the seminal report -- Hidden Agendas: Stereotypes and Cultural Barriers to Corporate-Community Partnerships (2004) -- that leads businesses to misunderstand and undervalue the benefits of working with non-profits
  • Impressions that social service jargon and even basic social service terminology like "job developer" or ".org" might have on employers, given the cultural biases revealed in Hidden Agendas
  • The marketing value of quantifying – putting hard numbers, especially dollar figures – on our descriptions of our organizations and the services we provide to employers

We also heard from three fantastic guest speakers who shared unique perspectives on the hiring process, reinforcing much of what we discussed throughout the session:

Diamond Boston, Internship Coordinator / Job Developer for the CHAMPION Network at Cypress Hills Local Development, spoke of her team’s work with a marketing consultant over the past year to develop business-focused employer outreach materials.  With a background in both marketing and retail, Diamond recognized that their existing materials, focused on the services provided to young adults, were not compelling enough to grab employers’ attention in a highly competitive job market.
Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, Executive Director, Harlem Park to Park | Co-founder / Managing Partner, Counter Culture Hospitality Group shared insights from her organization’s work supporting the 250+ entrepreneurs, small businesses, national retailers and large institutions that serve as the backbone of the Harlem economy.  She also touched on her own perspectives as the owner of several restaurants around hiring staff, emphasizing the need for candidates to demonstrate reliability and work ethic along with a capacity for adaptability given the challenges of the pandemic.
James Nunez, Retail Area Manager for Paper Source, offered a glimpse behind the hiring scenes of a national retailer.  He described the process the company uses to vet the 100+ applications typically received for each job opening, the types of characteristics that cause candidates to stand out, and how job developers can support their participants who want to apply.


As a practicum-style learning initiative, BELL includes independent team projects between sessions.  Before Session II, participants will continue work on articulating and quantifying their services for employers.  To see the impact of turnover on the bottom line, BELL participants will be using the Aspen Institute's Cost of Turnover Tool, a simple, “back of the envelope” calculator to help estimate how much money a business spends each year replacing staff.  One major opportunity for workforce programs is to reduce employee turnover by more thoroughly vetting and prepping candidates referred for positions.

The BELL cohort will reconvene on May 25th , June 8th and June 22nd for more packed sessions of new ideas, peer learning, and guest speakers!

If you have any questions or would like to learn more about BELL and other WPTI learning opportunities, please contact Dan Salemson, Managing Director of Digital Learning and Technnology, at dsalemson@wpti.org or Sabeen Pirani, Senior Director of Learning and Consulting, at spirani@wpti.org.