Job Creation

How This Former Councilwoman Is Helping Vets and the Homeless Find Jobs

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This story appears in the January 2015 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

If you’re looking to hire, there are plenty of places to find qualified workers. But few people are working as tirelessly to connect a specialized work force—military veterans and the formerly homeless—with good jobs as Jan Perry, who has served as general manager of the Economic and Workforce Development Department for the city of Los Angeles since 2013. 

One of Perry’s biggest programs, Los Angeles WorkSource Center, is all about getting people—especially those who have been out of the work force for an extended period—into jobs. It’s a cause that Perry, a former L.A. councilwoman who has served in leadership positions with the city for nearly 25 years and ran for mayor in 2013, has long championed. An advocate for both small-business owners and workers, Perry oversees efforts that have included offering more than $600 million in financing and technical assistance programs to promote business growth and job creation in economically depressed areas of L.A. 

We asked Perry to tell us more about challenges related to the work force today. 

How do you feel America’s work force has changed the most in recent years?

Technology has enveloped us, and clearly the younger generations who have always known technology and the internet have an advantage—they don’t have baggage that people who haven’t been in the work force have. The skills gaps have become more pronounced, and it’s not only in terms of preparing people for higher-technology jobs. Truly all jobs have become more tech-focused.

How is L.A. helping unemployed workers get back into jobs?

Through our programs, we’ve seen that the people we train are highly receptive to change, and we have potential employees who are nimble in terms of their ability to transition their skills to the work that’s available in their area of interest.

Are there new sources for businesses seeking qualified employees?

We’re rolling out our new work source centers that will be a point of contact for any potential employer to hire someone who has already been screened. For example, all you need to do is to make a request through our system, including the level of education and background experience you’re seeking, and we will find the person. Our mayor’s goal is to have 45,000 new people coming into our system within the next 12 months.

How important is government in terms of helping entrepreneurs launch businesses?

Entrepreneurs are a unique breed of people who can translate their visions into reality, and government can be a catalyst for them. In terms of innovation, government doesn’t lead the way, but it can help push something forward. The use of tax credits or incentives can complement what entrepreneurs do in terms of identifying a need or a gap that needs to be filled. Government can also help entrepreneurs put people back to work and use their creativity in a way that’s more targeted. 

In what ways should entrepreneurs consider government to be their partner?

When we gather statistical information, when we have land to leverage, government can be a really good partner. Government can help provide the framework for a public/private relationship. After all, our end goals are the same: We both share the goal of generating new revenue, providing basic services and putting people back to work.

Edition: December 2016

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