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Bridging the Skills Gap, Together

By Janelle Duray
A new partnership between ASA and Jobs for America’s Graduates is providing staffing firms with valuable information and resources aimed at providing young people with training and job opportunities.

Those who work in the staffing, recruiting, and workforce solutions industry know—perhaps better than most—how rewarding it is to connect the nation’s workers with the job opportunities they need and want. Especially as the U.S. economy continues to recover from the last recession, it is more important than ever that companies seeking talent have access to skilled candidates.

However, it has become increasingly apparent that throughout the country there is a disconnect—especially when it comes to certain jobs in the skilled trades. Companies report being unable to fill open positions, many of which are entry-level opportunities that require only short-term training. These jobs are often ideal and attractive to high school graduates who are interested in pursuing a certificate or associate’s degree program with a reasonable guarantee of well-paying, steady work.

Targeting the Skills Gap

JAG is currently assisting 47,000 youth in approximately 1,000 communities in 31 states to reach academic, career, and life success.
Recent research from the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University found that from 2000 to 2012 the nation’s young people fared worst in the labor market among working age individuals, meaning their numbers have dropped among the working population. In another recent study led by the Conference Board and the Society for Human Resource Management, more than 40% of surveyed employers said the incoming high school graduates they’ve hired are deficiently prepared for the entry-level jobs they filled.

It’s clear that strategies and solutions are at a premium. To that end, the American Staffing Association has stepped forward toward helping its member companies bridge the skills gap, through a new partnership with Jobs for America’s Graduates, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing employment preparation programs for at-risk youth in more than 1,000 communities throughout the nation.

Here is a look at some of the services JAG provides and how several ASA member staffing companies have begun working with the organization to provide candidates with the training and information they need to become competitive—and meet the needs of client companies quickly and effectively.

Serving Thousands of Youth

JAG graduates are employed at double the average employment rate for at-risk youth, and are employed at triple the average employment rate when the jobs are full-time.
During the 2014–2015 school year, the one-millionth student will enroll in the JAG program. JAG is currently assisting 47,000 youth in approximately 1,000 communities in 31 states to reach academic, career, and life success.

Among the organization’s achievements:

  • More than 90% of the at-risk students involved with JAG graduate from high school with the educational requirements identified by schools and other stakeholder groups.
  • JAG graduates are employed at double the average employment rate for at-risk youth, and are employed at triple the average employment rate when the jobs are full-time.
  • While most at-risk youth become first-generation high school graduates, 80% of the youth involved with JAG move on to and successfully complete a postsecondary education program, secure employment, join the armed forces, or some combination of these.

These outcomes have occurred consistently, regardless of demographics and through economic recession or recovery. JAG has been successful  across diverse geographies including urban areas like Chicago; Washington, DC; Phoenix; and Atlanta as well as rural areas in Montana, the Mississippi Delta, and Native American reservations.

With the support of trained JAG specialists, students are equipped to overcome the typical barriers to success that contribute to at-risk youth’s poor academic performance and/or early departure from high school. JAG specialists help deliver year-round employability skills training through an intensive program that focuses on 37 core employability skills competencies that JAG students master. These competencies include job interview skills, team building strategies, leadership exercises, and verbal and written communications skills. The program takes place within the high school classroom, but continues into the summer months to ensure JAG students have a year-round support system.

JAG also partners with more than 5,000 U.S. employers to provide a range of experiences, including job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships. These partnerships also help JAG students complete specific training programs and earn in-demand credentials, including ACT WorkKeys, Work Readiness, Career Readiness, and others.

Showcasing Career Skills

Students who are involved with Jobs for America’s Graduates also participate in the JAG Career Association program. Through this program, students elect leaders, organize community service events, and raise funds to travel to competitive JAG state career development conferences, where they can showcase their employability skills training.

The JAG Career Association program aims to equip students with self-organizing skills, instill a sense of community responsibility, and enhance teamwork skills. Top-performing JAG students throughout the nation have the opportunity to attend the JAG National Student Leadership Academy held annually in Washington, DC. The event is a valuable learning experience that allows JAG students to meet with JAG leaders at a national level as well as other JAG student leaders from across the 31-state network.

Building on Success Stories

JAG partners with more than 5,000 U.S. employers to provide a range of experiences, including job shadowing, internships, and apprenticeships. These partnerships also help JAG students complete specific training programs and earn in-demand credentials.
The Iowa JAG affiliate, called iJAG, offers several success stories, including the story of Justin Beck.

With support from a JAG specialist, Beck took advantage of iJAG’s relationship with Opportunity Dubuque, a program that selects young people (through an interview and assessment process) to receive scholarships for three-month training programs at the Northeast Iowa Community College. Program graduates then interview with local employers seeking skilled entry-level employees. Some JAG students also opt to continue their education.

Beck received a NICC scholarship through Opportunity Dubuque and completed a training program. Three weeks before his high school graduation, he was ready to work as a computer numerical control machinist.

ASA member companies also have relationships with JAG worth noting and emulating.

Supporting New Employees

Career specialists with Jobs for America’s Graduates follow up with JAG graduates for a full year after high school graduation to ensure that they are performing and growing on the job. Specialists also connect with the supervisors of JAG graduates to ensure the new employees are equipped to succeed.

Employers can feel comforted in knowing that their employee has a support system around them and that it’s not only the employer who expects their employee to be responsible and successful, but also the employee’s JAG career specialist, who has high expectations for the employee’s performance on the job as well.


Jobs for Wisconsin Graduates has a relationship with ManpowerGroup, which includes representatives from the company conducting mock interviews with JWG students as part of their employability training curriculum. ManpowerGroup also offers students temporary-to-permanent positions with its client Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. at locations throughout Wisconsin.

Other ManpowerGroup relationships with JAG affiliates include:

  • Jobs for Tennessee Graduates has a ManpowerGroup representative on the board of directors for its managing organization, Workforce Essentials.
  • JAG-Milwaukee, similar to JTG, also has a ManpowerGroup representative serving on the board of directors for its managing organization, the Milwaukee, WI, Area Investment Board. ManpowerGroup also plays a key role in providing workshops on employability skills to JAG-Milwaukee students.
  • Job for Maine’s Graduates works with ManpowerGroup to provide content for JMG’s three-day annual professional development retreat. The company also works with JMG career specialists on employability skills training, such as current résumé requirements and strategies. ManpowerGroup also shares job opportunities located in JMG communities.

Bonney Staffing

Jobs for Maine’s Graduates has connected with Bonney Staffing—and has  helped JMG students connect directly with local Bonney Staffing offices—to learn more about how to find temporary jobs.

Bonney Staffing professionals have also been invited by JMG students of the Lewiston Regional Technical Center to participate in a job fair along with other business in the greater Lewiston, ME, area. Bonney representatives will talk with students about the services they offer as well as practical information about what a successful job candidate looks like.

Integrity Staffing

The Wilmington, DE, office of Integrity Staffing has connected with Jobs for Delaware’s Graduates to help JDG students learn more about the job opportunities available at its client sites. Many JDG students choose to pursue jobs immediately following high school graduation, and Integrity Staffing has clients that need entry-level employees.

Learn More, Get Involved

ASA member staffing companies are uniquely positioned to establish corporate policies and programs that can help prepare tomorrow’s workforce. In May, the association officially entered into a partnership with Jobs for America’s Graduates. To find how your company can get involved with JAG through ASA, contact Tracy Rettie, ASA vice president, education and chapter relations, at or 703-253-2028.

Asking the Important Questions

In a survey conducted by the U.S Chamber of Commerce Statistics and Research Center, employers were asked about their satisfaction with employees who had come out of the JAG program. Nearly all of these employers (98%) said they were “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to employ other JAG graduates. The survey results also support the notion that JAG intervention improves youth’s employability skills by helping them understand what is expected of them in the workplace, which includes those soft skills that are rarely included in job-training programs.

“In an era when eager, ready-to-work, customer-service-focused, and capable entry-level employees are very difficult to find, JAG delivers just such young people to 5,000 employers every year,” says national JAG president Ken Smith.

Janelle Duray is associate vice president for Jobs for America’s Graduates. Send feedback on this article to Follow ASA on Twitter @staffingtweets.

<span class="publication-name"><em>Staffing Success</em></span> <span class="publication-separator">-</span> <span class="publication-issue">May-June 2014</span>
Originally Published In

Staffing Success - May-June 2014

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