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Cross-Sector Collaboration Helps Nonprofits Better Prepare Workers for Future Jobs

Published Sep 04, 2019 by Peter Beard

Rene Solis
Rene Solis, Chief Program Officer, BakerRipley


Peter Beard, the Greater Houston Partnership’s senior vice president for Regional Workforce Development, leads the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative. Beard recently hosted a roundtable of representatives from the various sectors participating in UpSkill Houston – industry, K-12, higher education, and community development. Rene Solis, chief program officer at BakerRipley, participated in the roundtable, and his comments are excerpted below. 


Peter Beard: How does collaboration across sectors enable BakerRipley, as a community development organization, to do its work more effectively?

Rene Solis: BakerRipley is focused on helping our neighbors earn, learn, and belong. We can’t do that if we aren’t engaged with employers, if we aren’t talking to educators from K-12 and higher education, if we aren’t connecting ourselves to others. UpSkill Houston gives us the opportunity to learn and connect with partners that have the same focus that we do: helping people get better jobs, earn more money, and have a better life. UpSkill Houston has that goal, and, at the same time, UpSkill Houston helps employers be more competitive by fostering a better skilled and educated workforce.

What has BakerRipley been able to accomplish through greater interactions with employers?

At BakerRipley, as a community development organization, we really need employers to help our neighbors be part of the economy and take advantage of opportunities that could be available to them. Being part of UpSkill Houston has been very beneficial for us in that we get to have good conversations, open dialogue with those employers and those industries, so we have a better understanding of what we can do at the neighborhood level to prepare individuals for jobs and help them earn more with training.

What are some of the common themes and subjects discussed across sectors?

Everybody “in the room” at UpSkill Houston, everybody that’s part of it – from the employers, to the higher ed leaders, to the K-12 partners, to the community development organizations and nonprofits – all understand that the human capital of our region, both our current and our future workforce, is what’s going to make Houston great and strong in the years to come. We have a lot of opportunity right now, and employers are asking for a better educated and more skilled workforce. It’s that recognition by everybody who comes to UpSkill Houston that makes the initiative strong. We’re having great conversations about how we improve the human capital of our region.

Are there outcomes from the multi-sector conversations?

In UpSkill Houston, we move from discussion to action. Since we’ve participated in UpSkill Houston, BakerRipley has developed strategies and rolled out programs based on the conversations we’ve had and the partnerships we’ve built with employers at the table. So, it’s a good place to have the conversation, but it’s also a place where conversations lead to action. For us, UpSkill Houston is leading to action that’s helping our neighbors find better paying jobs—from internships to learn and earn opportunities, to the way employers engage students.

What would you tell other community development and nonprofit leaders about helping to better prepare Houston’s regional workforce for the jobs of the future?

It’s been great for BakerRipley to participate in UpSkill Houston. We’re definitely going to continue doing that. We’d love to see more nonprofits and community development organizations participate, because there’s room for everyone and more participants will make our regional economy that much better.

My advice to other nonprofits and workforce organizations is to approach this with some connections to employers. Don’t guess at it. Don’t figure it out in a silo. Many times, nonprofits will think they have the solution to getting their neighbors or clients into better jobs. But you can’t really be sure you have the solution until you’re talking with employers and industry. UpSkill Houston has given us that opportunity to come in and have an honest conversation about the skills, the certifications, and the other options to entry into an industry for our clients. With that knowledge, we’re able to develop the programs and the connections that individuals need to find those better-paying jobs. Connecting with employers and industry provides a better ecosystem for our workforce development efforts.


This article is one of a series of four Q&As with executives who participated in a roundtable hosted by UpSkill Houston. Don’t miss insights from executives from business, K-12, and higher education, also available online.

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