Envision’s New Workforce Innovation Center Will Accelerate Workforce Diversification

Michael Monteferrante is the President and CEO of Envision.

Where can people with disabilities learn the skills they need to find jobs in new and emerging industries? How can U.S. companies meet the growing demand for more skilled labor? Envision produced an important answer this week with the announcement of a new facility that will provide intensive training for people who are blind or visually impaired and then help place them into skilled positions around the country.

Locally-based Envision has been promoting advocacy and independence for those who are blind or low vision since 1933. Envision President and CEO Michael Monteferrante announced on Monday that the organization has hired an Executive Director, Mike May, to oversee Envision’s newest initiative, the BVI Workforce Innovation Center.

Jonathan Long is the Chamber’s Director of Community Advancement.

Jonathan Long, the Director of Community Advancement for the Chamber, applauded the new Center and the diversification it will bring to the local, regional and national workforce. Long said, “We’ll all benefit from the dedicated and highly qualified employees who will emerge from this program. They’ll enrich the work environment wherever they go.” Long has several years of employee recruitment experience for area businesses and also directs the Chamber’s diversity and inclusion initiative.

The Chamber commends the leadership demonstrated by this initiative and congratulates all those involved. Follow this link to learn more about the initiative from a recent Wichita Eagle story.

The Diversity Difference

Part two of a four-part series on Young Professionals of Wichita
By Suzy Finn

Finn_web
Executive Director Suzy Finn (pictured) joined Young Professionals of Wichita (YPW) staff in 2013. As an active member of YPW for several years, Finn served as an Ambassador for the organization and a member of the YPW Board of Directors. She has a bachelor’s degree in public relations from Marquette University and master’s degree in business administration from Wichita State University.

Diversity. It can be a loaded term, because the definition of “diverse” can change quickly based on the context in which it’s used. When many organizations talk about diversity, they are referring to diversity of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, and age – the “protected classes” in employment and discrimination laws.

For Young Professionals of Wichita, having “diverse young talent” in our city is so essential that we made it a key part of our mission statement. And it is about much more than just encouraging employers to adhere to the letter of the law or having membership statistics that reflect a certain percentage of our members falling into one category or another.

Diversity of Thought

Our members all identify themselves as professionals, but that doesn’t mean they all think alike. At our first 2014 Leadership Academy session, the 25 participants learned about their Myers-Briggs personality types. When they split into groups based on types, the instructor was shocked to see that it was the most evenly divided group he had ever seen. I believe that we would see very similar results if we expanded that to examine our whole membership.

Our members run the gamut from introverts to extroverts; engineers to artists; democrats to republicans; high school graduates to PhDs. We have members who have been in the workforce for less than one month and others who have more than 15 years of experience. While we have fewer members with children, the proportion of married to single members is fairly even, and the male to female ratio skews only slightly female. We even have members from both the east and west side of Wichita!

These under-the-surface differences, among others, are what make YPW an organization where every individual can have their voice heard.  It is essential that we have members with broad interests and experiences so that we can build a web of connectivity that exposes them to new people, places, ideas, and resources.

Diversity of Background

A look at our numbers in the traditional measures of diversity align with the overall population statistics of Wichita. We strive to build awareness about the diversity that exists in our community by planning programs that help our members understand other cultures.

Our Mosaic team is tasked with executing YPW’s diversity-focused events and programs and has planned a variety of events in the past eight years. In 2013, they gained traction for two specific types of cultural awareness initiatives. One of the ways many people are first introduced to other cultures is through food. Mosaic’s Cultural Dine Arounds are held at locally owned restaurants that feature authentic cuisine from different ethnic groups. Planned for groups of 12 or fewer, the Dine Arounds give participants a chance to try a new type of cuisine, learn about the culture from the owner or chef, and network in a smaller group than at one of our large social events.

The team also recognized that there are many different religions represented in Wichita, and they work to introduce our members to some of the less well known houses of worship in the area. During the past year, members interested in learning about different religions visited the Quakers at Friends University, St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church, a Jewish synagogue, a Hindu temple, and a Buddhist sanctuary.

In 2014, the team will continue to identify opportunities for members to experience culture through cuisine and religion. They will also partner with organizations in the community to provide opportunities for our members to volunteer and participate in large-scale diversity-related events, including the All American Indian Festival in July and ArtAid in September.

Why Should Diversity Matter to You?

Having diverse young talent in the community is crucial to the future of Wichita, in both senses discussed above. One of the Chamber’s priorities this year is Entrepreneurship, including diversifying the industries in Wichita. The Tech Alliance is working on it, having received a grant from the Knight Foundation with a focus on making Wichita attractive to world-class tech talent and entrepreneurs. The Leadership Council is working on it, with a group of business leaders and entrepreneurs discussing how to grow entrepreneurship here. And the Chamber is working with its small business advisory group to identify ways to encourage more small business creation and growth.

All that work won’t mean anything if we don’t have people ready to invest in the new businesses that are a result of these collaborations, like Richard Stevens, a YP with Martin Pringle. Research has shown that venture capital investment is positively correlated with diversity and density of a city. The reason: “…both high-tech start-ups and demand for venture capital are more likely in regions that are open to new ideas and accepting of varied sorts of people. These kinds of locations have the underlying openness to innovation and risk that attract entrepreneurs.”

The bright young talent we want to bring to and keep in Wichita is looking for the same thing – openness to new ideas, people, and innovation. We’re prepared to welcome and celebrate that diversity within the community. How will you do the same?

See Part 1: Wichita’s Talent Pool – Keeping It Deep