January 19, 2020

Manpower manager prioritizes job seekers with 'soft skills,' launches workforce development program - LancasterOnline

By CHAD UMBLE | Staff Writer January 13, 2020 7 0

As a 20-year-old college student, Julia Groft admits she wasn’t really qualified for the job she got in 2007 as an employment agency staffing specialist.

But what she lacked in work experience or technical skills, she made up for in motivation.

“What happened is, I just worked my butt off,” she says.

A large part of that early motivation came from unexpectedly finding out she was pregnant while she was a student at Kutztown University and being forced to enter the workforce early.

“I didn’t have that traditional college experience,” says the 33-year-old Groff, who is still working toward a business degree.

But as she learned more about her staffing job, she found real purpose in helping people pursue their goals, support their families or boost their careers by getting a new job.

“I just loved the work — and I still love it,” she says. “Finding people jobs is the best job.”

Today, Groft oversees 38 employees at Manpower offices in York, Hanover and Lancaster as market principal the corporate- owned locations where she has taken a special interest in a variety of workforce development programs.

Groft is on the board of the Northern Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and is president of the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, which serves the area where she lives.

In November, Groft was honored with the 2019 Young Professional Network award from the Lancaster Chamber, which operates the young business professionals group.

The award is given to someone making strides to affect Lancaster for the better through his or her work.

Soft skills

With all kinds of companies needing workers in a tight labor market, Groft says she tries to convince them to take a chance on a person like her 20-year-old self: someone who might not check all the boxes, but has the proper motivation to succeed with training.

“Let’s get real. What do you really need in someone to do this job? Do they really need six months of work experience if you’re going to train them?” she says. “Think about what you really need if you have this urgent need for people.”

Instead of specific qualifications such as a high school diploma or years of work experience, Groft says things such as reliability, adaptability and the ability to communicate are some of the best attributes for job candidates.

These “soft skills” are increasingly important since job descriptions keep changing and employees are expected to keep up, she says.

“It takes a certain level of a person that can do a job for two years, and then you know in two more years your job is going to totally change — because that’s technology,” she says.

With baby boomers continuing to retire, a whole new generation of workers will be needed to take their place, she says.

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“But here’s what’s interesting— the people coming in, the jobs that they’ll have 10 years from now don’t even exist right now,” she says. “We’re shifting so far away from ‘What hard skills do you have?’ to ‘How do you learn? What’s your learning style? Are you flexible?’ ’’

Path to work

In the 13 years since she got her first job with a staffing company, Groft has advanced in her career as she’s become more focused on figuring out how companies can get the employees they need.

“Workforce development, that’s my jam,” she says.

Having weathered the Great Recession when job seekers could outnumber jobs by 20 to 1, Groft is now trying to manage a completely different market where companies often are desperate for qualified workers.

“What’s interesting now is the candidates really are the consumers,” she says.

With a shrinking pool of possible workers, Groft helped pilot a program in Hanover that offered classroom and onsite job training to people who were then placed directly with participating companies.

Aided by a $40,000 state grant, participants in this WorkPath program were paid during their two months of training, a feature Groft said helped ensure its success.

Groft says she hopes to offer a similar program this year in Lancaster County, saying it offers a tangible answer for the chronic problem of job seekers not having the skills employers say they need.

“We’re taking this group of people who was not employable... and now they’re employable,” she says.

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