Must Read Voices of Impact January 26, 2023

How OneTen is Closing the Racial Wealth Gap

An interview with Dr. Marc Spencer, Chief Talent Development and Support Officer at OneTen, on closing the racial wealth gap

The net worth of a typical White family in the U.S. is nearly ten times that of a Black family. These gaps in wealth are rooted in a history of systemic racism and discrimination, as well as in persistent wage inequality. Indeed, the Black-White wage gap in 2020 was as big as it was in 1950. To close these wage and wealth gaps, we need businesses to change the way they seek, train, and retain Black talent.

In this Tyton Voices of Impact interview, we sit down with Dr. Marc Spencer, Chief Talent Development and Support Officer at OneTen, to discuss how this two-year-old organization is addressing Black income and wealth inequality by working with employers, job training organizations, and communities to change recruitment, hiring, and retention practices to place one million Black individuals without a four-year degree into family sustaining jobs in this decade.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

OneTen seeks to close the racial wealth gap by promoting a skills-first approach

Tyton Partners (TP):
Can you tell us more about the vision and mission of OneTen and how that came about?

Dr. Marc Spencer (MS):
The vision is really grounded in closing the racial wealth gap for Black folks. After George Floyd was murdered, a few prominent CEOs got together and thought about what they could do in terms of making a difference for the Black community. Ken Frazier (former CEO of Merck), Kenneth Chenault (former CEO of American Express), Ginni Rometty (former CEO of IBM), Kevin Sharer (former CEO of Amgen), and Charles Philip (former CEO of Infor), got together to get companies to take a skills-first approach and to reclassify jobs that have a degree requirement. This would unlock a massive amount of Black talent to opportunities in corporate America. They reached out to twenty other CEOs and got them excited about the skills-first approach as well. It was more than just reclassifying the jobs, it was also addressing the systemic and institutional racism that is contributing to the lack of opportunity for Blacks in the workforce..

What I love about that is you’re both making sure that the opportunities exist while directing a pipeline of talent towards those opportunities.

It’s a good description and that is accurate, in terms of the strategic approach. The mission is placing one million Black talents without four-year degrees into family-sustaining careers in the next ten years. I want to make sure I honed in on that. It’s not enough to just reclassify the jobs. The internal practices need to be changed as well for these companies to inspire and excite Black individuals to come into their companies. There’s a lot of work that they need to do differently for folks to even want to apply, let alone stay.

What are the types of internal practice changes that need to happen? Which internal practice changes are companies already working on?

Let me just start with the job reclassifications, because that’s big. We have more than seventy employers in our coalition, less than half have made the adjustment to reclassifying jobs. Those that have reclassified, the number of jobs so far is less than 30%. There’s a lot of work to be done. You have the outliers like IBM who have reclassified about 50% of their jobs that do not require four-year degrees – they’re the field leaders. For us, if we get companies up to 25%, that’s winning for us this year. So we’re focused a lot on that because that requires your time, attention, and leadership to do that because it’s so easy to default to the old way of doing things; the way that you’re accustomed to doing talent acquisition, and quite honestly, the mindset to say, “I’d prefer a college educated person over someone that doesn’t have that.”

The other twist on this is, how do you start to help people understand that skills and experiences actually trump the degree completion? And we’re seeing a lot more people buy into that, because the research is there, that says those that are coming into positions that actually have the requisite skills and experience actually outperform those that are just based upon degrees. And those candidates last, meaning they retain higher and become much more loyal to these companies.

The other piece we’re really focused on is the diversity, equity, and inclusion practices in companies. How are they thinking about promotion? That’s one of the goals that we have: the percentage of Black talent that is promoted in these companies. That means taking on different practices like mentorship, which a lot of Blacks and women are excluded from. Blacks tend to not have the same type of mentors in companies at certain levels that can advocate on their behalf and show them how to be successful in terms of upward mobility, giving stretch assignments, how to network properly, how to put yourself in a position where you’re being recognized for your work. We talk a lot about that and help companies think about their talent acquisition strategies, because typically, they are going to the same sourcing streams that they’re accustomed to.

What we’ve done is amassed over 100 talent developers in our ecosystem that are helping to skill-up Black talent that most of these companies have never heard of. We’re also exposing them to what we call high-skill talent developers. These are entities that are working right now – not at the scale that we’d like them to – but are providing companies with an opportunity to develop apprenticeships in their companies that are directly associated with community colleges who have a high percentage of Black learners that would not otherwise find these apprenticeship programs, because those providers aren’t marketing well to those talent. Companies are seeing this as a great resource and viable pipeline to job opportunities, because they can influence the training that’s occurring in those apprenticeship programs.

Another thing we’re doing is we have practices of change that we’re bringing CEOs of the 70+ employers in our coalition into where they get specific education on best practices. It’s a pure learning opportunity and a safe place for them to just be honest about their shortcomings, and also share some of the best and next practices that are working in terms of the whole talent journey from acquisition, to onboarding, to retention, to advancement. So we have communities of practices that we’re doing with the CEOs and the communities of practice we’re doing with Chief HR Officers. Now, we are about to institutionalize a community of practice with hiring leads – the folks that are the gatekeepers to the jobs – to make certain they understand more about the journey of Black talent, and why they’re valued employees and potential employees. Because a lot of them, quite frankly, have not really understood Black talent, because they just haven’t had the exposure. So bringing more Black talent to them directly, so that they can really understand their journey and their potential is important.

How OneTen works with training providers to reach Black talent

In our prior conversations, you’ve talked a bit about developing the demand side, and you’ve also touched on developing supply and the partnerships you’re building to make that happen. Could you talk a little bit more about that aspect of things? Because, I think one of the misperceptions in the market, historically, is that there’s not enough Black talent out there, there’s no female talent out there. How are you addressing that perception while also driving supply to fill the demand you’re generating on the employer side? Because I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but you all are not developing new talent development programs, you’re identifying the talent that is already out there who is already trained or going through existing programs to get the training and helping them attain those family-sustaining jobs.

Right now, we’re building out an early talent pipeline, which are 18-year-olds coming out of high school that aren’t going into a four-year post-secondary track. They’re either looking for employment now or heading into accredited program at junior college or something like that. We’re working with entities like Level All, that now has access to unified school districts across America, and they’re building out one of the largest libraries of post-secondary educational content for learners to start thinking about their career journey. In that type of relationship, what we’re doing is saying, “We’re going to be a resource for those talent to access jobs that are entry level that require very little skills and experiences.” Retail jobs are a good example there. We have employers like Lowe’s and Verizon that are actually looking for more 18- to 21-year-olds because they can train them. They just need to get them excited about the opportunity. So what we’re doing mainly is the awareness building, because we have the demand. We understand what their job requirements look like. Now, we have to make sure the young people coming out of high school have access to that information and we’re looking for entities like Level All that are building partnerships with unified school districts to take on the component of career development that’s lacking in high schools.

What we are doing then is connecting level all to the jobs and opportunities as well as the skilling providers. The skilling providers, similarly to the employers, have had poor recruitment of Black talent into their programs. What OneTen does is we amass all those providers, and then market their programs to the Black community. We do that in multiple ways; we have a national marketing campaign, so you’ll see OneTen marketing in barber shops now. We’re working with what we call talent connectors, these are large Black churches that reach millions of Black families. We send information out to the Black churches so that they can send it out to their parishioners and so everybody’s getting more awareness about OneTen.

We had a great story recently. Somebody was wearing a OneTen shirt in the airport and one of the girls working there said, “Is it real? Are you guys really doing this?” And it gave one of our staff an opportunity to say, “Yeah, we’re actually doing this. There are real jobs here.” And she goes, “Wow! It seemed too good to be true.”

We are doing a lot of outreaches to places where you find Black folks and trying to take advantage of that. There are 300,000 Black learners in the community college system alone. Unfortunately, it’s been overlooked as a real talent sourcing opportunity and pipeline opportunity. It’s changing now, because the community colleges understand now that they must work in alignment with the companies in their communities to make certain that what they’re teaching on their campuses is aligned to real job opportunities. And so, the micro pathways and micro-credential work that we’re doing with 20+ community colleges is helping build out that robust talent pool.

Then, I would say further along, what we’re trying to do next is connecting Black talent that are underemployed and or not making a family sustaining wage through direct marketing efforts to let them know about these opportunities. That’s kind of how we’re approaching the early side of the talent all the way through talent who are later in their employment journey, but need to take that next leap into getting into a family-sustaining career.

Partnerships to reach scale in talent development

That story about the woman at the airport gave me goosebumps. That’s when you really feel the direct impact you’re having, and to see that is a beautiful thing. Can you talk more about the partnership strategy that you’ve deployed, as well as where you think there are more opportunities beyond the ones that you’ve already developed?

I told you about the community of practices on the demand side with the employers, we’re doing the same thing now on the talent side. We’re putting together a community of practice with all of the talent developers. It’s another way for peer learning to occur for us to understand more about their challenges. Essentially, how do we help them to scale their impact?

We are fortunate that we’ve amassed a nice financial war chest, so when OneTen was established, we raised $100 million dollars and up until today. We’ve been doing grant making. What we do in our partnerships on the talent side is we invest in those talent developers in strategic ways to help them to be encouraged to put their talent on our platform. We have a career marketplace where talent has a profile. We have AI that helps map them to the demand from the coalition partners. Those are the employers that have reclassified their jobs. Those jobs live on our marketplace – the talent comes on, and the AI helps because they put their skills and experience down, then they get matched and are encouraged to apply. We invest in talent developers to encourage them to place talent on a platform, so that’s one of the types of partnerships there.

We’re also trying to change the field so there’s a lot of storytelling that we’ll be doing as well to help the general public understand what these talent developers are doing both to the talent so that they understand where the opportunities are, and to the employers so that they understand that these are our sourcing streams.

We’re investing in community colleges now, investing millions of dollars to lift new micro credentials and micro pathways in partnership with employers in those locations. We’re also developing a national apprenticeship earn-learn model inside of community colleges. My hope is that, like what you’ve seen in countries like Germany where there’s a national opportunity for everybody to experience an apprenticeship, we want to create a model that lives in community colleges that has a braided financial model where there’s public and private partnership to make sure that it’s scalable, sustainable, and has widespread adoption in corporate America.

That gives you a little sense of partnerships – a little bit of strategy. Now we’re actually thinking of bringing together more government partnership, because anytime you’re trying to think about scale, one of the key partners is government. So, we’re looking at ways in which we can partner with the Department of Labor, Department of Education, and other kind of local and statewide entities to ensure that there’s an approach that’s comprehensive and ensures that there’s longevity in terms of both financial and programmatic sustainability.

Final question, what makes you most hopeful or excited about the work that you guys are doing?

Right now, it’s the results that we’ve gotten. I believe we’re close to 45,000 hires now. The ultimate proof of concept is getting folks hired. Many of those hires are coming from what OneTen has influenced companies to do, meaning that the companies now that they’re involved in the coalition, taking a skills-first approach, and focused on Black talent without four-year degrees, we’re seeing that they’re building different machinery to get to those results. It’s encouraging to see organizations are walking the talk in terms of the change practices; that they continue to see value in the sourcing streams that we’re bringing to them; and that they’re willing to go on the diversity, inclusion, and equity journey in a real, authentic way that I haven’t seen before.