HIRE bridges gap between local companies and job seekers

There are people looking for family-sustaining, career-building jobs in Dane County. There are also companies throughout the county looking for people to fill quality jobs. However, connecting those two groups isn’t always as easy as you’d think, which is where United Way of Dane County’s HIRE Initiative comes in. The program connects job seekers to partner agencies that provide job skills training to employers that provide jobs with a family-sustaining wage of at least $15 per hour.

It’s not a complicated concept, but the United Way and its partner agencies are committed to building awareness about the HIRE Initiative throughout Dane County.

The HIRE Initiative began in 2013 and really took off a year later thanks to then-Campaign Chair Jack Salzwedel, American Family Insurance CEO, says Angela Jones, United Way director of community impact. American Family gave a one-time grant of $1 million over three years to grow the program.

How it works

HIRE works with individuals who do not have job skills or a high school diploma by helping them navigate the complex employment system to earn steady employment.

United Way brings together nonprofit agency partners and connects them with local companies that are looking for qualified job seekers, explains Jones. Through United Way, these nonprofits and businesses communicate — businesses share the kind of experience they are looking for, then nonprofits can tailor the job skills training and education to the individual.

According to Jones there are more than 30 local companies on United Way’s HIRE Employer Council and the group is always looking for more. American Family Insurance, TASC, CUNA Mutual Group, and J.H. Findorff are just a few of the businesses that are involved. (For a list, visit here.)

“The goal of HIRE is to provide a path for an individual to earn a steady job, so he/she can build a stable life for their family,” Jones says. “Our goal also includes strengthening our local businesses with a qualified workforce, as well as supporting nonprofits to use their resources in the most effective and efficient way possible.”

As Marcia Anderson, HIRE Employer Council co-chair and clerk of court at the Western District Bankruptcy Court of Wisconsin explains, “HIRE employer partners have embraced the fact that many people in our community rely on other means to find employment opportunities but may have encountered obstacles to reaching many great employers due to unintentional barriers, such as a lack of internet access.

“Many people in Dane County rely on one of the several multicultural newspapers, or cannot use online applications due to a lack of internet access at home,” Anderson continues. “HIRE employers address these challenges by advertising in a wide variety of sources and use the nonprofit partner agencies or the United Way HIRE website as a resource to connect them with a diverse workforce.”

According to Anderson, the HIRE Initiative’s efforts don’t just stop at finding people employment. The seven HIRE nonprofit partner agencies have resource coordinators who work closely with hiring managers and supervisors. The HIRE nonprofit partner agencies and employer partners have also closely collaborated to share ideas and best practices on: improving on-boarding processes; ensuring that new employees have an understanding of the culture; providing a work mentor; and developing innovative ways to support family and health emergencies that can be a barrier to retention.

So far, despite HIRE not yet being a household name among Dane County employers and job seekers, it seems to be working. To date, 1,345 people have been trained and found employment through the HIRE Initiative since 2013. Currently, 174 have obtained jobs that pay over $15 an hour, which puts HIRE on track to reach its goal of 240 by the end of 2017.



Unemployment eye-opener

While Dane County’s overall unemployment number stood at a miniscule 2.7% in December 2016, the numbers are far from rosy when broken out by race, notes Jones.

United Way of Dane County held a HIRE Summit Jan. 27 at American Family Insurance. More than 100 business leaders learned how they can attract and retain qualified job candidates with the HIRE program.

“African-Americans have the highest jobless rate, around 40%,” Jones says. “In comparison, about 10% of Dane County’s white population is unemployed. That’s according to the U.S. Census 2010–2014 American Community Survey.”

That census data estimates 12,067 Dane County adults (ages 25–64) do not have a high school diploma. Without a high school diploma, individuals have a much harder time finding a job, and the recession hurt those with low skills the most, says Jones. “The highest unemployment rates coincide with the demographics of our highest dropout rates.

“With the Great Recession, there were a lot of duties getting rolled into one position. Now, those duties are getting parceled out again, opening up more job opportunities,” comments Jones. “However, most individuals we see are not making $15 per hour. That’s why United Way is continuing to connect with more employers that pay $15 per hour.”

Without adequate education, Dane County residents are unable to get employment and cannot provide for their families. According to Jones, the loss of unemployment affects the building blocks that make up a stable life — education, income, and health. “The loss of a job has contributed to home foreclosures,” adds Jones. “Parents struggling to find employment may not focus on their children as readily, which can lead to behavioral problems and struggles in school.”


Jones says HIRE was born because United Way recognized there wasn’t a place for nonprofit agencies in Dane County, which are working with job seekers, and companies to meet and learn from each other.

“That’s where we came in. We brought these entities to the same table, where they could have in-depth discussions,” explains Jones. “Each side learned — nonprofits could make sure their trainings were going to prepare individuals with the greatest chance to earn a job. Businesses learned what barriers these individuals face, which helps companies better manage employees and understand what may be going on outside of the job.

“Deeper understanding on both sides leads to our ultimate goal of the individual succeeding in a job that can, hopefully, build into a lasting career!”

The HIRE Initiative focuses on several growth industries and career paths with its employer partners, notes Jones:

  • Customer service/hospitality
  • Food/restaurant
  • Health care
  • Manufacturing
  • Information technology
  • Road construction
  • Construction
  • Skilled trades
  • Certified nursing assistant

“We’ve seen the most growth in IT, construction, banking, customer service/hospitality, and health care,” Jones says.

“Our focus at United Way is moving more people on pathways out of poverty,” adds Jones. “So we are really zeroed in on the families who are struggling to get out of poverty. These individuals have the drive and fight to build a more stable life and HIRE is here to make that path a little bit smoother. For companies, I think many will tell you what kind of struggles they face finding talented, qualified candidates. And if United Way can connect these two issues together, not only will both parties be better for it, but our community will be a stronger, better place to live for all.

“The great thing about HIRE is that not only is it a path to a stable job, but we’re also able to connect that individual to housing and childhood care services,” concludes Jones. “So we’re making sure this family is being supported in every facet of their lives, which increases their success of building a stable life.”

Local companies and job seekers can learn more about HIRE at HireInDane.com.

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