Building Bridges to Fight Unemployment

While the job market is holding up pretty well these days, on a macro level, make no mistake about it — there are still plenty of folks struggling to find gainful employment.

In particular, there are certain types of candidates that generally have to fight through an extra layer of difficulty when it comes to landing interviews and job offers. Older workers and executives, for example, frequently experience longer-than-average transition times due to “overqualified” concerns and other factors.  The same can be said for military veterans transitioning to the private sector.  Or people with disabilities.  Or folks who have been unemployed for long periods of time, voluntarily and involuntarily, including parents returning to the workforce after taking a number of years off to focus on their family.

For many of these people, the job market today DOESN’T feel like a robust, friendly, or equal-opportunity place at all — no matter what the high-level statistics might suggest.  While there are no fewer than 65,000 jobs being advertised in Washington State as we speak, according to just a single search on, many employers seem steadfastly insistent on not filling some of these needs unless a candidate almost perfectly fits the desired “mold” of skills, qualifications, and experience.

Luckily, not everybody is throwing their hands up in surrender around these realities.  It’s been great to see a growing number of organizations and community leaders starting to proactively combat some of the closed-minded thinking out there that’s short-circuiting a lot of potential hiring activity we could be celebrating as a region.

My latest inspiration on this front is a local individual named Mike Kelly, to whom I was recently introduced.  While I’ve only chatted with Mike briefly on the phone, to date, I came away with tremendous respect for the mission he’s pursuing through his non-profit organization StepNW.  Having had a front-row seat to some of the recent layoff rounds at Microsoft, and at the same time having networked with numerous local startups complaining about a lack of available talent to hire, he got to wondering why these early-stage companies weren’t actively seeking to recruit many of the former Microsofties, as well as other employees being displaced from larger tech enterprises.

His discovery?  He noted that many founders and executives within the startup community were assuming, erroneously, that candidates who had worked at bigger companies wouldn’t a) be interested in working for small, entrepreneurial firms; b) didn’t have the flexibility, mindset, or disposition needed to succeed in a fast-paced startup; and/or 3) were looking for salary packages that smaller firms could simply never afford — so why bother even considering the possibility?  With a leg in both camps, however, Mike felt these assumptions were largely out of touch with reality and he therefore decided to form an organization dedicated exclusively to getting these two communities talking together, with the goal of catalyzing some win/win outcomes and net job growth.

To date, it sounds like his venture, StepNW, is gaining tremendous traction.  Here’s a quick description of what the organization is all about:

“StepNW is made up of members from the startup and tech community who decided to help unite the Pacific Northwest tech community and it’s talented workforce. We learned that while experienced people can have a hard time finding work, there are lots of solid startups who are having a hard time finding the right expertise. But there was nothing to link these two groups effectively. We want to help people caught in layoffs find jobs and we want the startup community to thrive.”

It’s really a cool concept — and if you’re wondering how this model actually works or whether there’s some “catch” to it,  you’ll find these questions answered, and more, in the FAQ section of the StepNW website, which I’ve linked here.  The site also explains how interested parties on both sides of the equation (tech workers, startup executives, etc.) can get more involved in the organization’s activities, if interested.

Long story short,  I salute the commitment Mike and his partners are making to break down some of the job-killing stereotypes they’ve encountered in this one specific segment of the economy.  Let’s hope we see some more fresh thinking and leadership sprout up along these lines, in the years to come, supporting some other niche candidate populations out there.  Again, definitely check out StepNW, if interested!

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