By Jeff Goumas and Jen Vanek
|“It really has fine printed the areas in my professional life and personal life I need to work on. I’m not always the best at finding little traits in myself.”
–Heather Barton, CrossPurpose Graduate
Soft skills. Employability skills. Essential skills. POWER skills. Regardless of what name you give them, these skills frequently are cited as being the most challenging for employers to gauge; they also tend to be the ones that ultimately lead to high levels of turnover and “churn” in employee hiring and retention.
Traditionally, many of the training resources devoted to this realm are rooted in scenario-based contexts where the “right thing to do” is pretty obvious. Educators and employers have been quick to point out, however, that just because someone can choose the correct thing to do in an observed situation doesn’t necessarily mean this same decision-making is applied when learners encounter similar situations within educational, work, or life contexts.
So how do we go about measuring and developing these social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that are so critical to learner and jobseeker persistence and success within their educational and employment pursuits?
PAIRIN, a social enterprise developing software to make education relevant and hiring equitable, has created assessment tools to help validate, measure, and gain these critical soft skills. And we wanted to learn more.
Using PAIRIN to “Know Thyself”
In partnership with the Employment Technology Fund, the first social impact fund investing in tech to close the employment opportunity gap, we field tested one of PAIRIN’s tools for a closer look at its implications in helping workforce development professionals better serve low-income adults.
We looked at how PAIRIN Pro is used by organizations in Denver to help learners and job seekers “look in the mirror” to get an objective sense of self. Through personal development programming and coaching driven by PAIRIN, these organizations are able to develop learners’ skills so they are not just prepared to enter into careers, but they have the mindset needed to succeed and thrive.
At the heart of PAIRIN Pro is the PAIRIN survey, an assessment which measures over 100 coachable and changeable behaviors. By self-identifying “how you are” and “how you’d like to be” along these 100 attributes, PAIRIN Pro helps learners objectively understand their mindsets, drivers, core values, and attitudes, a critical first step for enabling people to reach their full potential.
PAIRIN data also allows workforce development organizations to compare jobseeker candidate scores to those of high-performing employees at potential employers.
PAIRIN identifies student skill gaps and provides personalized SEL tools to help develop these skills. “College and Career Readiness” targets help identify gaps to goals for focused development. Built-in flags also help programs identify participants likely to drop out. Additional resources like built-in coaching, individualized growth tips, and job-specific targets further support goal-setting and track progress. PAIRIN also provides comprehensive professional development to the programs that support these participants, so that they can make the most of the affordances PAIRIN offers.
Using PAIRIN to Close the Employment Opportunity Gap
For our field testing, we partnered with a long-time client of PAIRIN—Activate Workforce Solutions—a Denver-based job placement public benefit corporation. Activate collaborates with workforce development and training programs that provide services for jobseeker populations who typically are not well served through traditional recruitment and hiring practices.
PAIRIN provides Activate with precisely the tools needed for them to objectively assess candidate mindsets. Coaches exclusively use the PAIRIN results to guide their one-on-one conversations with candidates. The details that are provided by the PAIRIN survey report— including information on “blind spots”—are based on extensive psychological research and lend themselves perfectly to coaching.
|“What I have found to be very true is that for people who don’t have counseling degrees, people who aren’t psychologists, it actually makes the best and most valid psychological research digestible for lay people.”
–Dan Kaskubar, Activate Workforce Solutions
Beyond supporting personal development, what makes PAIRIN a powerful tool for closing the employment opportunity gap is how it connects jobseekers to careers that are a fit based on mindset and behavior. Working with their employer partners, Activate uses PAIRIN to identify target ranges for core attributes for in-demand jobs by profiling current high-performing employees at their employer partners. Capturing this data helps Activate and its training partners calibrate soft skills development for each potential candidate. By having tools that align candidates’ personal development to employers’ needs, Activate is able to tailor its coaching and give employers assurance the candidates it places will perform strongly in their new careers.
“The whole world feels like it’s more at the tip of my fingers than it was before.”
Two years ago, Heather Barton and her husband both worked in the restaurant industry. They were content. “There wasn’t a desire to anything different.” Then, Heather’s son was diagnosed with diabetes. It didn’t take long to realize the financial toll this new reality would have on the family. On their first visit to the pharmacy to pick up the medications, the bill was over $2,000. Heather realized she had to do something; the situation was dire: “Do we pay for rent, or do we pay for medicine to keep him alive?”
It was at that point a coworker introduced Heather to CrossPurpose, one of the community-based organizations that partners with Activate. CrossPurpose offers a community development program for unemployed and underemployed adults who are ready to start a new career path, improve their financial situation, and become self-sufficient. At the start of the program, CrossPurpose’s participants—known as “leaders”—take the PAIRIN Survey. PAIRIN helped Heather understand her mindset, her drivers, and what careers might make sense for her.
Using PAIRIN data, Activate works with CrossPurpose to identify leaders who are particularly well-suited for careers with their employer partners. Heather was one such leader. After completing CrossPurpose’s 6-week personal development program, for which portions of PAIRIN’s curriculum are used to guide instruction, Heather identified areas of growth needed to support her career development, particularly around decision-making process. Heather then began training to become a Certified Water Operator.
Throughout her journey to graduation and employment, Heather took the PAIRIN survey multiple times, working with Activate coaches each time to look at her results and see how her mindsets were shifting over time. As Heather grew and made her way toward her goals, her priorities changed. Having PAIRIN results, along with a coach, helped her make sense of these changes in mindset. “(It was) really beneficial having a coach to get into it and pick it apart, and to help you apply it to real life….at least, that was what it did for me.”
|“Back in Spring 2017, I didn’t feel like I could provide for my family…at all. I felt like I was barely keeping my son alive. Now, in my household I’m the breadwinner….I’m learning, and I’m growing, and I have so much potential for growth…. it’s only up from here. So, not only do I feel like I can pay rent, put bread on the table, and put insulin in my son’s body. But I feel like from here, we’re going to get a house, we’re going to get a dog, we’re going to go camping more…the whole world feels like it’s more at the tip of my fingers than it was before.”
-Heather Barton, CrossPurpose Graduate
Just one year after entering CrossPurpose’s doors, Heather had earned all of her certifications and is now a Certified Water Quality Operator. She continues to meet with Activate coaches to process her development and stay on course. This is a critical element of Activate’s model, aided by PAIRIN. “It’s not the ‘doing’ of getting from A to B, it’s how you process it and whether or not you have appropriate coping methods to be able to deal with major life shifts that accompany it,” states Dan Kaskubar, Activate’s Chief Operating Officer and one of the coaches who has worked with Heather since the beginning.
Powered by PAIRIN, CrossPurpose’s intensive personal development coupled with Activate’s coaching has set Heather and her family up for sustainable career and financial independence. “I honestly don’t think I could have done it without them because we can dig into things a little bit further and they have the expertise to really know how to apply it to people. It’s incredible, really.”
Exemplar Use of a Powerful EdTech Tool
With CrossPurpose’s top-notch personal development course and Activate’s skilled coaching in place, PAIRIN has proven to be the perfect tool for providing objective data. PAIRIN’s data-informed resources help drive the inspiring work these organizations are doing to help jobseekers develop pathways out of poverty. The partnership that has formed among PAIRIN, a Denver-based company, CrossPurpose, and Activate is something special, yet we believe any organization committed to the critical personal development needed for adult learner populations to sustain success could benefit from the range of tools offered by PAIRIN.
And for the adults whose mind sets are holding them back from employment opportunity–tools like those from PAIRIN will be life changing.
About the Employment Technology Fund (ETF): The Employment Technology Fund is the first social impact fund to invest in technology solutions that improve employment opportunity for lower-skilled, lower-income adults in the United States. By shaping the future of work, ETF and its portfolio companies will close the employment opportunity gap facing 103 million adults who lack the skills, training and opportunities to access family-sustaining jobs and meaningful employment, including women, minorities, and immigrants. Since launching in August 2017, the Fund has made seven investments including: Cell-Ed, NorthStar, SkillSmart, Nepris, Signal Vine, Care Academy, and PAIRIN. The Fund’s investors include the Walmart Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, Joyce Foundation, The W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the ECMC Foundation. Learn more at www.employmenttechnologyfund.com.
Thank you to Walmart:
World Education’s Technology Testing for Adult Learning & Employment initiative was supported by grants from Walmart and the Walmart Foundation. The opinions and ideas expressed in this report are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Walmart and Walmart Foundation.