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May 22, 2019

In collaboration with the James Irvine Foundation, the San Diego Workforce Partnership hosted an employer roundtable on May 21 where San Diego service sector businesses—which includes those rooted in customer facing roles (restaurants, hospitality, retail, etc.)—discussed what is working well and what key challenges exist within their realm of workforce development. 

Irvine EmployerThe James Irvine Foundation envisions a California where all low-wage workers have the power to advance economically. Irvine recognizes that employers face enormous workforce challenges, including continued difficulty hiring qualified workers. They also know that many employers see the benefits of building a stronger, more diverse workforce. Each of these themes guided the goals and discussions of the day. 

Topics discussed include developing talent, hiring practices, retention, on-the-job training and supply chains and company cultures. Shifting to a broader view, the group also talked about policies and practices, economic conditions, and diversity, equity and inclusion for the San Diego region. Contributors to the conversation included Gap Inc., Goodwill, Amazon, Manpower, RHR Hospitality, Hyatt and more.

Here’s what we discussed:

Innovative practices

Employers are exploring different ways to connect with job seekers including “just in time” text message campaigns and keeping a warm pipeline pool. Employers chimed in with ways they keep a warm pool of candidates, such as using pre-interview techniques like prioritizing previous applicants for future open positions and shifting focus to competency-based hiring with on-the-job training to build on soft skills and promote from within.

Employers are leveraging different kinds of partners, including community colleges and online training platforms. Hyatt uses a formalized online training program as a recruiting tactic for their culinary department, which can be a hard department to recruit for. The program allows Hyatt to hire on people without a lot of culinary skill and start them as a dishwasher while training them to transition to a food handlining culinary role.


Difficulty ensuring the basics are in place, such as transportation or housing.

Employees often present challenges to consistent availability due to working a second job, attending classes or school, etc. Scheduling is a pain point for businesses and employees.

Significant skills gap in key areas for employers, particularly soft skills.

Employers are facing significant turnover, particularly in the first year for entry-level workers.

When talking about how to better diversify their workplace, employers recognize that diversity is often stratified by role.


Wraparound support for employees. For example, transportation and childcare.

Shifting perception around lifelong learning. “The workforce is changing, the kind of work is changing, lifelong learning is necessary for everyone,” shared one employer.

Irvine Employer 2There is a significant need for soft skills in traditional areas like professionalism and communication as well as areas especially important in the service sector, such as emotional intelligence training. Businesses see this being a place for partnership with by high schools or community colleges.

Existing programs

Companies are exploring pipelines of “nontraditional talent.” This Way Ahead, ran by Gap Inc. and CONNECT2Careers, focuses on opportunity youth. As many as 96% of interns at Gap describe themselves as people of color, something the company intentionally measures to ensure a workforce that represents the communities they are in. Gap Inc. also leads a program in all stores that trains associates to reach leadership within 6 months.

On June 13, 2019, The Workforce Partnership is hosting a Reentry Works Town Hall in anticipation of the release of a request for proposals for an approximate award of $2 million. Everyone is invited to convene with other community-based organizations to address the crisis of finding employment after incarceration.

Another employer is working with veterans through the Warrior Foundation to help them access workforce opportunities.

Another business partners with Commuter Check Direct to offer a pre-tax commuter benefit to employees which they can use for Amtrak, Lyft and Uber services.

What workforce challenges, opportunities or action is your business experiencing? Let us know at

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