Daniel Varner, CEO of Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit

By: BLAC Detroit

With Detroit’s unemployment rate at about 8.4 percent as of April 2017, Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit is working to help decrease that number by assisting metro Detroiters with employment challenges.

True community revitalization starts with the people who live and work there. Dan Varner believes it starts with strengthening the workforce and economic development. Through his work at Goodwill Industries of Greater Detroit, he leads the organization in developing metro Detroit’s workforce, particularly helping get people with employment challenges working.

“Organizations like Goodwill are critically important because, as our community experiences a renaissance – a clear case of rising tide – we want to make sure that our entire community thrives.” Varner says. “Organizations like Goodwill are here to make sure that that rising tide lifts every boat.”

“Organizations like Goodwill are here to make sure that that rising tide lifts every boat.”

Servicing 9,000-10,000 people in metro Detroit annually, the Goodwill reaches people in Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, Livingston and Washtenaw counties.

“Folks who have employment challenges, we work with them around those challenges and get them ready for competitive employment and then place them in the world of work,” Varner says. “We run businesses, in addition to job training programs, and help folks get trained through those businesses.”

In 2016, 89 percent of individuals placed into jobs through Goodwill remained working after 90 days. Currently, the team at Goodwill is in the process of setting up a program, where they will work with employers and entry-level employees, that will help those in need, retain jobs after they’ve been hired on.

“We may be working with folks who, because they’re coming from a low-income household, they have other challenges like a car breakdown or a sick child or whatever will present a challenge for them keeping their job,” Varner says. “This effort really is about wrapping around those employees who are in entry-level positions to help them keep jobs and then help them climb the career ladder within those companies to eventually get better paying jobs and ultimately get themselves out of poverty.”

One of the ways Goodwill has remained successful since its founding in 1921 is by utilizing business development to both train and partially fund its programming. While Goodwill does raise money to help sustain its programs, it also works to generate small amounts of profit through its businesses, including Goodwill Automotive, which is a tier-one supplier of kitting and on-vehicle assembly components to Ford and other major automakers.

Varner considers Goodwill a “for impact” organization, meaning it’s not just characterized by its nonprofit status but also by its development of creative and innovative ways to move the community forward.

“We want to see tens of thousands more Detroiters working, helping their families and unlocking the potential contributions they can make to the community,” Varner says. “We want to see folks with developmental disabilities, mental illness, veterans, folks who are getting out of prison, folks who have been chronically unemployed. We want to see them contributing to our community. We ultimately want Detroit to be a really thriving, robust community.”

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