By Patty Riddlebarger, Vice President of Corporate Social Responsibility, Entergy Corporation
When recent high school graduates Nichelle Johnson and Tranetta Luque began their jobs as customer care center clerks at Entergy Corporation, they were excited. They knew they landed well-paying jobs with full benefits, a retirement savings plan and excellent long-term career opportunities at the only Fortune 500 company headquartered in their hometown of New Orleans.
What they did not know is that they had their own, equally excited cheering section inside the company, who had been working behind the scenes to bring them on board. This is the story of their journey, a workforce program called Entergy Career Pathways — and how it all started at the Points of Light Conference.
According to numerous surveys, CEOs consistently rank recruiting and retaining top talent as one of the biggest challenges their companies face. With an aging workforce, low unemployment rates and an increased focus on workforce diversity, Entergy, like many other companies, is always exploring new avenues to source talent. We believe a focus on Opportunity Employment, an approach to hiring and retaining individuals who face barriers to employment, will help us achieve our goals.
Two years ago, Entergy’s Chairman and CEO Leo Denault tasked my team with the challenge of leveraging our community partnerships to address the company’s need for a skilled and diverse workforce that reflects the demographics of the communities we serve. Around the same time, I attended the 2017 Points of Light Conference in Seattle, and one of the breakout sessions focused on Opportunity Employment.
The session was moderated by Nicole Trimble, executive director of Talent Rewire at FSG. Talent Rewire works directly with companies to address a business need within their talent system while improving the livelihood of underemployed populations. The session highlighted best practices for corporations seeking to build the workforce for tomorrow and beyond. At the same time, Talent Rewire was recruiting companies to participate in the second cohort of its Innovation Lab, a learning community of companies designing pilot programs for opportunity employment. The timing could not have been more fortuitous.
After applying for and being accepted into the program, Entergy assembled a multidisciplinary team that included corporate social responsibility, talent management and operations staff. The team partnered with a select group of Entergy-funded organizations that work with youth from underserved communities, including schools and nonprofits in New Orleans. With our partners and support from Talent Rewire, the team developed a pilot program to recruit and hire potential candidates for entry-level positions. Nichelle and Tranetta, both graduates of high schools and community programs funded by Entergy, were among the participants in the pilot program.
The program consisted of a week-long Entergy Careers Bootcamp that included education about career opportunities at the company, a facility tour, résumé reviews, mock interviews, meetings with hiring managers and intensive preparation for pre-employment testing. At the end of the week, students took the required tests that corresponded with their career interests. I would be hard-pressed to say which group was most anxious about the results – the applicants or the project team.
The results were remarkable: 78 percent of the applicants passed the test, an increase of 28 percent compared to a control group, far exceeding our baseline data. Applicants who passed the test were then guided through the job application process. Hiring managers were notified about the candidates’ participation in Entergy Career Pathways, and were encouraged to grant them interviews.
Nichelle and Tranetta are the first two new hires from Entergy Career Pathways. But the program doesn’t stop there. It goes beyond hiring. The team is currently developing and implementing a strategy designed to increase retention and equip program participants with the tools needed to grow their careers within the company. They are looking not only at traditional tools, such as mentoring and peer-to-peer support, but also identifying potential obstacles to success, like child care issues or transportation needs, and then working with community partners to find solutions.
With the successful completion of the pilot, the project team is now evaluating strategies for launching Entergy Career Pathways across the entire business. Our hope is that this strategic and holistic approach to Opportunity Employment, which we learned about at the Points of Light Conference, will create a competitive advantage for the company, position participants for successful careers and contribute significantly to the long-term economic development of the communities we serve.
New ideas and new connections await you at the 2019 Points of Light Conference! Register today and join Points of Light, June 18-20 in St. Paul.
Patty Riddlebarger is the vice president of corporate social responsibility for Entergy Corporation, an integrated energy company that delivers electricity to 2.9 million utility customers in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. Entergy has recently been recognized by many corporate indices, such as The Civic 50, 100 Best Corporate Citizens and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index.