It’s not hard to see why so many corporate funders are eager to address the gap between jobseekers looking for upward career paths and a glut of unfilled “middle-skilled” jobs in industries like healthcare and financial services. It’s an area where grantmaking may be able to substantially improve economic opportunity for low-income people—and firms get a better applicant pool for their trouble.
Among the many corporate funders involved in this space (Microsoft, Siemens, Citi, and Bank of America, to name a few), JPMorgan Chase has emerged as a powerhouse. Since late 2013, JPMorgan’s $250 million New Skills at Work initiative has been rolling out a stream of grants to close the skills gap, with a focus on urban areas. And don’t forget the bank’s complementary $75 million New Skills for Youth initiative. Lots of money here.
One way funders are tackling the issue is through online career portals, the intention being to help potential applicants acquire relevant skills and connect them to employers. In its latest thrust at the skills gap, JPMorgan Chase just announced BankingOnMyCareer.com. Dubbed a “career exploration tool,” the website introduces New York-area jobseekers to opportunities and relevant skills in the financial services industry.
JPMorgan Chase isn't the only corporate funder backing this type of project. Recently, Microsoft Philanthropies signed onto the Markle Foundation’s Skillful platform in a big way. In partnership with LinkedIn, Skillful’s Colorado debut may prefigure further funder-backed expansion. But right now, these career portals seem largely tailored to particular cities.
Case in point: After finding a major case of jobs-to-skills mismatch in Houston, JPMorgan Chase funded Petrochemworks.com, an online portal for jobseekers in the petrochemical industry. To develop Petrochemworks, JPMorgan worked with the Council for Adult Experiential Learning (CAEL), a Chicago-based nonprofit dedicated to adult learning opportunities.
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CAEL was also a key partner on BankingOnMyCareer.com, providing implementation support for the project. The New York City Employment & Training Coalition, the Partnership for NYC, and the City University of New York also contributed. JPMorgan Chase laid out $580,000 to develop the site. While that isn’t much compared to some of the bank’s other voluminous grantmaking in this space (or the many millions that Microsoft has poured into Markle’s Skillful), it’s still a sizable bet on a website.
We have to hope that these portals actually reach and serve the constituencies they’re designed for. There's a long history of do-gooders building websites to solve this or that problem—only to have them end up as digital ghost towns.
BankingOnMyCareer.com appears thorough at first glance. The website offers information on NYC’s financial services scene, information on what it takes to land a job in eight separate career types, lists of employers currently hiring, and ways to get the appropriate skills training.
Of course, online portals are just one way corporate funders are approaching the skills gap problem. For its part, JPMorgan Chase has deployed its vast resources into workforce development projects across the country. In January, the bank devoted $20 million to state-based education strategies toward skills development. JPMorgan has also been targeting skills development in specific industries, like healthcare, and specific localities, like the South Bronx. The bank also teamed up with Bloomberg Philanthropies last year on YouthForce NOLA, addressing the skills mismatch via technical education in New Orleans.
As we’ve noted before, closing the skills gap looks like a promising way to foster opportunity, especially in an economy where middle-skilled service jobs must replace manufacturing jobs that have been automated or transferred overseas. That said, workforce development is a notoriously tough area for funders to get a lot of bang for the buck. Will the big banks succeed where others have failed? It will be interesting to see.