A conversation with one of our new team members, the director of talent development and WIOA, Cynthia Grissom
Q: Tell us about your career journey?
A: I spent most of my years at a big 4 consulting firm. They do a great job with leadership development and continuing professional education. I was a project manager and worked with various stakeholders from different levels and perspectives, and internal departments from IT to marketing.
I then moved into supporting people with disabilities and set out to change the culture of corporate offices to make accommodations for people with disabilities. We created a national program to help people with disabilities work to their full potential and enjoy a quality work environment. From our efforts, we won a prestigious award from the Department of Labor.
Working toward a goal of making noticeable improvements in people’s lives, was a welcomed change. It was a lot of work, but it was a different kind of work that was fulfilling. It was eye-opening that once we created this safe structure, we discovered so many people had been silent about their disability and we had an opportunity to improve their work lives. Next, to learn from the best, I joined a company that takes disabilities support to a whole new level. I managed two conferences; one for disabilities and one for mentoring. I was also able to experience an innovative mentoring program focused on diversity that connected people across the company to help grow and maintain its talent pipeline. It’s so important for people to take the reins to steer their careers. It’s also important for employers to provide tools to make that happen.
I have been at global companies, midsize and small companies, for profit, not-for- profit and governmental entities. Through my range of experience, I now have a pretty good understanding of the challenges common to a variety of organizations. Whether it’s healthcare, IT, financial services, construction, etc., it is important to invest in your talent.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish through your role here at WSM?
A: We want to be more innovative in our job centers. And, we need to change the perception that we only assist the underserved, difficult to place job seekers or fill entry level positions. We will work with anyone who is willing to commit to the process of self-improvement. We serve job seekers who come from a wide variety of backgrounds. We want to point this talent in the right direction. We have immigrants that need to recertify their skills here. We want to give them options of what they can do in the meantime to keep their education level where it needs to be. There are people who don’t want to be saddled with college debt and are looking for other pathways. We want to present them pathways that are thriving. We also want to help entrepreneurs and direct them to the many resources available to get their businesses off the ground.
The reality is that we are here to support the businesses of Montgomery County. We need to attract and retain businesses and do our best to ensure a highly skilled workforce is available to keep these businesses running. We assist in helping them access the skilled employees they need to be confident that their business is going to thrive here. Businesses come if they know the population is educated, and Montgomery County is well educated. Our employers are looking to fill a wide spectrum of job levels and we want to think creatively for different target markets and work to serve them better.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your position?
A: I’m never bored! I’m working with employers, job seekers, and community organizations and connecting them with people in the County that provide a multitude of fabulous services and knowledge. It’s invigorating to live in a place that can creatively apply its resources to improve lives. I want people to know we are a resource to many; from people who want to start businesses, people who are just coming into the country and have specialized skills, businesses who cannot find the skill sets needed to staff up, people new to the workforce, businesses who don’t have the bandwidth to tackle hiring challenges, to people with experience who want to rebrand. For our employer customers, we offer no-cost or low-cost services and if we don’t provide it, we can probably find someone who can. We can free up their staff and customize our services to meet their needs.
Q: What’s a piece of advice that you would give businesses in the area?
A: Invest in your employees. Statistics show people stay when they know their company is invested in their future. We want to help companies take that leap of faith and also help protect their interests. I would suggest employers think longer term about their workforce and develop a succession planning protocol. The smaller the firm, the tougher this is because each person is more crucial. If one leaves, it has a greater impact on a team already stretched thin. You have to constantly think about grooming people for different roles down the road and find ways to let them know they are valued, apart from salary alone.
Q: For the talent in the area?
A: Think about your personal brand, invest in yourself. Spend the time to critique your LinkedIn profile and examine your online persona – it is what you want it to be? Does it conflict with what you consider to be your personal values? Employers will look at this to assess your level of professionalism. Have a vision, plan a strategy and take baby steps toward achievement. Building a brand takes time, so if you’re in a hurry, it is difficult to produce on the fly. Some ideas include joining associations and groups of common interest, volunteer with an organization for which you admire the mission, and grow a network that works for you. Then, when you’re ready to move forward, you already have strong connections related to your industry of choice. Don’t let life happen to you; create the work life you want.