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Grounding the Workplace Through Character and Values

Written by Guest Contributors Dan Charney & Alan Ross

Team NEO has reported that the number one issue among employers is finding and retaining employees. Even before the Great Resignation, employers were having difficulty filling open positions. In the wake of COVID-19, amid dropping unemployment and a robust economy, this predicament is even greater. To address this situation, to its credit, the Cleveland Metropolitan School District, in collaboration with dozens of companies and nonprofits, launched the Greater Cleveland Career Consortium. We are proud to be a part of this collaboration to match students with career pathways -- pointing them toward meaningful careers and productive lives.

But there are employees and there are employees. Not every potential employee has the work ethic, collaboration or relationship skills, and ethical core that are important to employers. HR professionals tell us that, while they can train for the technical elements of the job, they have difficulty training for character and values. CEOs who hire for their executive teams admit that, while they may hire for competence, they often fire for character. Character matters, because individual character and values can either align with a company’s culture or torpedo it.

Workforce analyses have acknowledged this character need. A recent McKinsey & Company Global Workforce Study concluded that, “The results (of surveys) also point to a shift in the most important skills to develop, which tend to be social and emotional in nature: for example empathy, leadership, and adaptability.”

For years, companies that rely on entry-level workers have reported difficulty with employee social-emotional, character and values issues. Neighborly, Inc., a large franchise organization with 16 household brands, noted that they were going through ten hires to find one “keeper,” defined as an employee who stays on the job for a year.

That is why Direct Recruiters, Inc., a global recruiting firm based in Solon, and Values-in-Action Foundation, a Mayfield-based character-building and workforce training organization, have teamed up to form Direct Community Impact, a fee-based employee placement company that finds, trains and places underserved, entry-level employees.

This novel collaboration is an extension of Values-in-Action’s “VIA: How You Get There” Workforce Training, which trains hundreds of students in Northeast Ohio public high schools with character, values and soft-skills needed to get and retain well-paying jobs.

In 2013, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Board of Regents approached Values-in-Action and asked it to develop a values-and-character-based, soft-skills curriculum and training for high school juniors and seniors looking to directly enter the workforce. The state was interested because Values-in-Action had an impressive track-record of training the most at-risk underserved girls to graduate high school and perform well. Third party data showed that, where Values-in-Action’s Project Love and Believe to Achieve programs trained students, conditions for learning (a metric used by CMSD) increased 16%, and 85% of the most at-risk girls graduated, with close to zero pregnancies (which often interfered with both graduation and employment) within the graduating cohort.

The state paired Values-in-Action with Auburn Career Center, the oldest and largest of the Ohio career centers, to co-develop and pilot the workforce program. The model was piloted during a year-long effort at Auburn which included mentors and participants from Lubrizol, Kennametal, Gold Key Manufacturing, Jergens, Cleveland Clinic, Progressive, Torque Transmission, Lake County YMCA, Marous Brothers and Swagelok. Several VIA-trained students were then placed with the participating employers with excellent results. Swagelok reported that they noticed a distinct difference in attitude, collaboration, character, and values from the VIA graduates that they hired.

One of the main elements of the 16-week program is mentorship. Corporate mentors meet with students every three weeks during presentations the students make about real-life workplace scenarios. In the final session, students present their own mock company, complete with core-values, products, employee relations and community involvement.

For several years, Direct Recruiters has provided mentors to the VIA program. Seeing a need for placing the values-centered students with values-centered companies, Values-in-Action and Direct Recruiters developed Direct Community Impact. This combined effort is now ready and able to fill employers’ talent pipelines with character-based entry level employees.

VIA means “through.” We believe that, through a character and values approach, companies can find qualified employees who will become “keepers.”

Dan Charney is President and CEO of Direct Recruiters, Inc.; Alan Ross, a longtime management-side labor lawyer, is Board Chair of Values-in-Action Foundation. For more information on how to access values-based employees, contact Nya Brooks at

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Now that we've joined forces, we can provide space bar clicker companies with entry-level workers that are character-based.

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