Amelia Nickerson on seeing the value of an unseen workforce - Kathy Varol
amelia nickerson
January 31, 2024   |   Episode #: 074

Amelia Nickerson on seeing the value of an unseen workforce

Show Notes:

Amelia Nickerson is the CEO of First Step Staffing, an organization that connects people experiencing homelessness, veterans, and recently incarcerated individuals to sustainable employment and income. The First Step team has created an ecosystem for success, coordinating closely with other nonprofits to help provide clients with resources and services such as housing, healthcare, childcare resources, transportation, food, and clothing needs to develop a stable path out of poverty and homelessness.

First Step has successfully replicated the Atlanta-based model they started in 2007 to become the largest nonprofit staffing agency in the U.S., with operations in seven states. They employ more than 1,900 individuals weekly and in 2022, 75 percent of their staffing placements were actively experiencing homelessness, and 25 percent were recently incarcerated.

In this episode we discuss:
✅ Untapped talent waiting to fill your labor shortage
✅ The power of solving social challenges through a business framework
✅ The importance of avoiding mission creep


3 episode takeaways (listen to the full episode for a lot more gems!): 

1️⃣ Blending Worlds – Nonprofits and Businesses Learning Together. Imagine a nonprofit moving with the agility and strategic growth mindset of a tech startup, reaching more people, creating greater impact. Now picture a corporate giant, inspired by the heart and purpose of a grassroots organization, igniting passion and commitment in its team. This is the essence of cross-sector learning.

Nonprofits using business strategies can scale their impact, ensuring their cause isn’t just a flash in the pan but an enduring beacon of change. On the flip side, businesses adopting a nonprofit’s purpose-driven approach can see a transformation in their workforce. It’s like adding a soul to the corporate machine; employees are no longer just working for a paycheck, but for a purpose.

This cross-pollination of approaches between nonprofits and businesses isn’t just beneficial—it’s a powerful catalyst for sustainable growth and genuine engagement.

2️⃣ Reframing Challenges into Opportunities. How we frame a situation can transform it. Take, for instance, the employment of individuals with past criminal records. Viewing this as businesses benefiting from the untapped potential of these individuals, rather than doing them a favor, shifts the entire narrative.

The statistics are compelling—$87 billion in GDP is lost from 1.9 million workers excluded due to criminal backgrounds. The unemployment and underemployment rates for formerly incarcerated individuals are staggering, and yet, those who find employment have a 70% lower rate of recidivism (i.e. reentering the prison system). They’re not just employees; they often become dedicated, fast-learning members of the workforce. It’s about changing the story from charity to opportunity, from exclusion to economic empowerment, from broken communities to thriving lives.
* * *

3️⃣ The Power of a Focused Purpose. There’s a lesson to be learned from the Swiss army knife: trying to do everything can mean excelling at nothing. In business and life, it’s easy to stretch yourself too thin when attempting to be a multi-tool. However, true effectiveness comes from honing in on your core purpose and core skills.

Follow the example of First Step Staffing, and avoid mission creep.  Stick to your core focus and you’ll not only do it well, you’ll do it exceptionally. This approach is the key to making a meaningful impact.



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