Looking for decent work? There are investors here...
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Jun 21, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Looking for decent work? There are investors here to help

From San Diego to Toronto, impact investors are trying to back good jobs rather than just a healthy bottom line

OurWindsor.Ca

If you’ve looked for work recently, you may well have asked yourself: Where are all the good jobs?

In an increasingly precarious economy, that’s the quandary a new breed of investors wants to tackle.

“When you look at trends around precarious work, youth unemployment and part-time work, there certainly is a need for alignment with financing enterprises that do fund good jobs,” says Adam Spence of the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing.

Enter a vanguard of players who are interested in more than a company’s bottom line. They’re asking whether businesses give employees access to an increasingly rare set of luxuries: decent salaries, paid sick days, health benefits, and a chance to climb the career ladder.

Toronto investor Bill Young, for example, has for the past decade made it his modest mission not just to create jobs for people who need them most, but to change Canada’s employment landscape.

He founded Social Capital Partners, which started off backing social enterprises that aimed to generate decent work. He then moved on to giving loans to private-sector franchises that agreed to implement community hiring programs that aim to get underemployed locals into jobs.

Now, he’s set his sights even higher, by trying to change the way hiring happens in the first place.

Community hiring programs, he points out, are useless if local residents don’t have the skills and qualifications to land decent jobs to begin with.

His organization has funded a study with Deloitte detailing how to create a new employment system that, like the city’s burgeoning workforce development initiatives, recognizes the importance of identifying gaps in the labour market and the skills employers are hungry for.

“Canada needs a new employment and training model. It should start from: Where are the jobs of the future?’ ” says Young.

In a city where over half of all work is now considered precarious, advocates say investing in good jobs is important.

While jobs in Ontario are still being created at a reasonable clip, they are increasingly of the part-time, low-wage variety. A recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that the province’s low-wage workforce, defined as those making within $4 of the minimum wage, has ballooned by 94 per cent over the past two decades. That’s compared to just 30 per cent growth in total employment.

And it’s not just not-for-profit and public-sector jobs that are important to tackling the problem, Young argues.

“Why have we divided this world into here’s what non-profits do, here’s what the government does, here’s what for-profits do — as if there’s no intersection,” he says. “It seemed to me that the intersection might be the solution to some of the social challenges we face.”

That notion is gaining traction elsewhere.

The Fund Good Jobs initiative in Oakland, Calif., for example, is premised on providing capital to small businesses that need it, and who are committed to investing in employees.

“Our intention is to really change the job creation conversation, not thinking just about how many jobs we create, but the quality of jobs we create and for whom we create those jobs,” says fund president Sean Daniel Murphy.

So far, the venture has invested around $2 million (U.S.) in employers who are striving to meet the fund’s good-jobs guidelines. These include targeting underemployed individuals such as ex-offenders, paying above the regional living wage, and giving workers wealth-creating perks such as stock ownership.

San Diego-based impact investor Huntington Capital also maintains a fund worth more than $100 million to invest in companies that want to provide good jobs, particularly in underserved communities. That fund gives firms a clear road map for improving job quality by implementing living wages, career ladders, and health benefits.

“It’s about making sure everyone feels that they’re part of the family, and they’re a valued part of it,” says Hope Mago, a senior associate at Huntington Capital.

“Things like that drive creativity, drive higher participation rates from the workforce, and reduce the incidences of absenteeism or other bad outcomes.”

If the business argument is becoming increasingly apparent, Social Capital Partners’ Young argues there is a broader social aim, too.

“A good job is so important for so many of us in multitudes of ways that go well beyond the economic importance,” he says.

“It really gets to the nub of who we are and how we see our place in the world.”

Toronto Star

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