Homeboy Industries creates workforce development hub

workforce development hub

Homegirl Cafe is one of Homeboy Industries social enterprise ventures.

If you manage a nonprofit that deals with helping people find employment and don’t have a workforce development hub, you may want to consider creating one. Or strengthening and improving the hub you’ve already established. And what Homeboy Industries learned may help you understand better how to do it.

Homeboy Industries, founded by Father Greg Boyle in Los Angeles in 1988, has become the world’s largest gang intervention, rehab and re-entry program. It runs a series of social enterprises that includes a bakery, cafés, catering, Homeboy gear, online marketing and silkscreen and embroidery and an electronic recycling operation. But it just began to develop a workforce development hub last year.

We first became aware of Homeboy Industries’ new project when attending a workshop at this year’s Global Homeboy Network Gathering, where they generously shared the details. The slide deck from the workshop helps to illustrate the concept and the different possible components of a well-designed workforce development hub.

According to Mary Ellen Burton, Homeboy’s vice president of work readiness, “The workforce development hub is a brand new thing for us, at least in the sense of defining it that way.”

What exactly is a workforce development hub?

“A workforce development hub (WDH) is a network of organizations that provide integrated support services, training, and employment for a specific population, like formerly incarcerated people in Homeboy Industries’ case,” says Kyle Nelson, McKinsey & Company’s engagement manager, who led a McKinsey & Company team to help Homeboy get things going.

“The “hub” could be physically co-located, like at Homeboy headquarters on West Bruno Street, or physically distributed. The idea is to scale impact, expertise and support by bringing together different organizations to help a community prepare for and achieve better work options and upward economic mobility.”

According to Burton, their work with McKinsey & Company’s team was instrumental in helping Homeboy develop its WDH. “Three to four consultants spent 16 weeks with us and they interviewed a lot of staff and looked at our processes. We explained what we do and where we want to go. They looked at other organizations around the country and formulated the step-by-step process of how we could get there,” she says.

McKinsey & Company’s efforts helped Homeboy develop its WDH

As Nelson explains it, McKinsey “partnered with Homeboy’s leaders and staff to:

  1. understand their current workforce development efforts and impact
  2. research common effective practices of other workforce development hubs across the country
  3. reflect and frame the options for how Homeboy’s workforce development hub could develop, including assessing the investments, partnership ecosystem and impact potential of a WDH in specific sectors over time, and
  4. lay out the implementation plan and activities needed to achieve this potential.”

The effort was part of the global management firm’s commitment to 10 Actions toward racial equity, in particular to support organizations working to advance the economic mobility of historically stigmatized and/or disenfranchised parts of society.

Elements of a workforce development hub

Partnerships are essential to an effective workforce development hub. And getting to know how each partner can work together and support each other is key. It can also be a challenge.

Part of that challenge lies in the fact that to be truly effective, partners need to share an organization’s values. And this is especially true in the case of Homeboy Industries. “We have to look at what are the underlying values of the organization. If they’re not able to accommodate our culture of kinship, the kind of support we get will be different. The best partners are the ones that share our values,” Burton says.

The importance of partnerships

Although workforce development remains the center of the hub, Homeboy Industries provides many of the supportive services needed as part of that hub. At the same time, it is working to build partnerships with other organizations that can provide the types of services that Homeboy Industries can’t.

“For us it’s about forming a relationship. For example, we were in partnership with Goodwill on a grant that we were working on. They had limited experience with the population we work with, and we had to be clear on what we’re doing. We had to have one of their staff on site so they could get to know us. We had to look at that relationship and see the limitations,” says Burton.

Homeboy also has a relationship with a licensed substance abuse organization. “They moved into an office here and worked with us very, very closely,” she explained.

In addition, the nonprofit established a relationship with the Downtown Women’s Center Los Angeles to help with housing. And it became a part of their hub. Another partner, a single individual, helps Homeboy Industries get Section 8 vouchers, so that clients can afford to find affordable housing in the private market.

Before people can get training for work readiness, they have to get stability in their personal lives. Because, as Burton says, if people don’t have housing and child care, the rest of the plan falls apart.

Partnering with employers

Then comes employment. The organization is working on employer partnerships. And they had a recent success.

“We had a big hotel being built downtown, a Hilton, and they approached us about hiring. We met with their HR dept., and we had them come to Homeboy and did a joint orientation with our staff,” Burton says.

“They (Homeboy Industry clients) went through a whole interview process, and everybody was prepared for the interviews. At the end of it there was a background check. They said that ‘One of the people who approached us is one we would never hire, but if you’re willing to vouch for him, we’re willing to hire him.’ It was  a lot of upfront work to build that relationship.” In the end, they hired that person and 15 or 20 other people from Homeboy Industries.

Training is an essential element of a workforce development hub

An important part of the workforce development is training. Homeboy Industries trains people in culinary skills, electronics recycling and silkscreen and embroidery through its own enterprises – and has set up a system to help ensure their success.

“Each person has an employment counselor they work with and they meet with on a regular basis. They also have a case manager and an onsite readiness trainer. The readiness trainer is their supervisor and support person and is on the job with them. For many people that’s the first time they’ve ever had a job,” Burton says.

Many Homeboy clients are trained in culinary skills and operations, but they may not want to further pursue work in that field.

McKinsey & Company used the Job Progression Tool, a resource provided by the Markle Foundation and Rework America Alliance to job coaches and career navigators who want to support job seekers who don’t have a four-year college degree.

“We used it to identify pathways that people actually took in their careers based on the same starting point many of Homeboy’s trainees have (e.g., in food services). Understanding the most common paths that real people took with the same starting skillsets makes it easier to understand the types of partners, intermediate jobs and long-term career aspirations proven out by others,” Nelson says.

Training programs with educational institutions

In addition to training people within its own operations, Homeboy Industries is working to establish training programs with outside organizations.

“We’re trying to formalize some of the training,” Burton says. “One of the places we’ve been working on relationships is the junior colleges. They teach specific skills, and they have the contacts, so why would we reinvent the wheel?”

One long standing relationship is with the L.A. Unified School District, which has been a partner of Homeboy Industries for 12 years on a program to train people in solar installation. Homeboy Industries supplies the students and pays for the four-month training that is conducted by LAUSD. After completion nearly every participant gets placed in a job.

Management that clients can relate to

One key to success of any program is to have leaders who truly understand where their clients are coming from.

“Central to Homeboy’s theory of change is having people with “lived experience” lead the organization and its important initiatives forward – including its WDH,” says Nelson. “Prioritizing that leadership model means significant, intentional investment in training and leadership. development programs for managers throughout its organization so that transformation is led with “lived experience” at its core.”

A WDH can be a reality for different-sized organizations

Even with the size and influence of Homeboy Industries, it still looks to community partners in building out its Workforce Development Hub. The good news is that whether you have an already established internal ecosystem or need to collaborate with community partners that also share your values, creating a WDH is within reach for organizations of almost any size.


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