Former Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.  Past Administrator of US Small Business Administration. Previous President and CEO of both Oakleaf Waste Management and Livingston International. It’s safe to say that in the c-suite realm, private and public, Steven C. Preston counts as a heavy hitter. And when Preston was offered the position of President and CEO of Goodwill Industries International, he jumped at the chance, stepping into the role in January 2019. One of the first items on his agenda? A trip to Goodwill Manasota. SRQ checked in to talk local success, workforce automation and where Preston’s own good will began.

In your own life, when did you first understand the importance of what Goodwill does?  I grew up in a family with a father who didn’t finish high school. A very hard-working, a very smart person, but a number of times growing up, as somebody who worked in manufacturing, he found himself unemployed just because of economic realities. So understanding the impact of unemployment to a family was something that I felt very deeply. When I went into government, I got much deeper insight into some of those challenges and how hard it was for people. I realized what it was like for people to have either fallen off the track or never had the opportunities that many of us had in life, and were now trying just to figure out how to get back in, how to come back from poor decisions, from illnesses or broken families, or coming back from having served in the military and trying to reenter civilian life. I wanted to be part of that solution.

Why did you want to take a closer look at Goodwill Manasota? The Goodwill network has about 160 local Goodwills in North America. I came to Sarasota because this particular Goodwill is well known within the Goodwill Network for the quality of its operations, and the fact that it’s forward-looking in many ways, in terms of providing services. It’s a very well-run entity, and I wanted to come down and not only see the mission services we provide—because we do a lot for people with physical disabilities and people coming out of incarceration, and we’ve got terrific veterans programs here—I also wanted to see the operations on the retail side here.

Why is the retail side integral to the operation?     What most people don’t realize is those retail stores pay for our mission. The profit from the store helps veterans, it helps people coming out of prisons, it helps people with physical or intellectual disabilities who need support in entering the job market. So the better we do at retail, the more we can do helping people. And many of the people that work in our retail operations have life challenges as well. The people in the stores are part of the program. We call that mission-integrated retail. I wanted to come down to Sarasota because it’s a real bright star in our network, both in terms of how they run their retail operation and in terms of their mission operations.

How will Goodwill’s employment programs adapt to workforce automation?   We are working very intentionally to provide people with the skills that are most relevant to where the world is going, so that increasingly we can make sure that people land not only in jobs, but in jobs that are well-paying, in jobs that are more stable. Last year, we entered a partnership with Google called the Goodwill Digital Career Accelerator. That partnership provides support from Google to work with Goodwill to develop very specific digital skills training
curriculum and a path to increasing proficiency in digital skills.

What does that path look like?    It’s five levels. You come in at the most basic level—somebody learns how to work with a computer, get on the Internet, fill out job applications, basic skills. As you move along that continuum, you might learn how to use different productivity tools so that if you go into a job in an office, you know how to do word processing, you know how to do spreadsheets or presentations. Then when you get to the top, you actually learn how to program. You learn how to do cybersecurity. You would be able to work in an IT department. With the help of Google, we’re in over 90 Goodwills right now. 

Have these programs been successful thus far?    One of my favorite stories is a young lady in Nashville who, a year and a half ago, was homeless with her two daughters, and today she works for Google. I met another young man, he lives in Roanoke, and he’d come out of the military, had a very hard time coming back into civilian society, got into drugs, landed in prison. We took him under our wing, and now he works as a help desk professional and he’s getting a credential to do coding. These are people who had very deep problems, were having a very hard time getting their lives back on track, and now have really strong professional credentialing.

What are your goals for the coming year?    We can be a major force in our country for helping people coming out of incarceration to get their lives back and not end up back in incarceration. Recidivism rates in our country are enormously high. If those people come from Goodwill, our recidivism rates are incredibly low. We’re already an important, positive force in the lives of people who are looking to invest in themselves and move forward. That impact could be expanded meaningfully and in ways that are specifically relevant to the biggest challenges in our country.