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Greater Boston Chamber Aims to Diversify the New Intern Workforce with Launch of New "Skills First Internships" Program

November 20, 2019

The Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce (GBCC) is pleased to officially launch the Skills First Internships program with the goal of providing equitable access to quality internships in Greater Boston for college students of color and underrepresented students such as first-generation, returning, or students who may be earning a college degree later in their lives. Through Skills First, the GBCC also hopes to encourage organizations to rethink hiring strategies and lead in the creation of a diverse workforce that is more reflective of our region.

Research shows that after a traditional resume screening process, only 20 percent of applicants who are students of color are invited for first-round interviews, but with a blind hiring process, that number grows to 60 percent (See Footnote 1). For Skills First, the GBCC will offer employers a technology solution which is a skill-based, identity-blind hiring platform that reduces hiring bias. The platform substitutes the traditional resume with a standardized application that puts the focus solely on the skills an applicant brings to the table, instead of a focus on where they acquired those skills.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. Global Philanthropy invested $85,000 to help support and develop Skills First, recognizing the program as an innovative initiative that can diversify the pipeline for corporate internships.

“Unconscious bias is steeped into the hiring process, hindering the growth of the diverse workforce that Greater Boston wants and needs to innovate and grow,” said James E. Rooney, president & CEO of the GBCC. “Access to quality internships is an equity issue, and through Skills First the Chamber is empowering the business community to take the lead on creating more opportunities for students of color to get their foot in the door, build their experience, and build the network they need to succeed in the Boston business community.”

From January to May 2019, the GBCC recruited seven Boston-based companies including Allen & Gerritsen, Alexion Pharmaceuticals, Arnold Worldwide, John Hancock, Suffolk Construction, Vertex Pharmaceuticals, and Wayfair, to participate in a pilot of Skills First. During the pilot period, 13 internships were posted, 189 applications were submitted, and five interns were hired through the program.

John Hancock posted two internship roles during the pilot of the program, amassing a pool of 27 candidates and filling both with students who applied through Skills First. The students joined John Hancock as part of the wider summer internship program, so they gained access to the same networking, mentorship, and learning opportunities as all other interns in the company. “We want our workforce to reflect not only the markets in which we currently do business, but also those within which we aspire to grow,” said Sofia Teixeira, US Head of Diversity and Inclusion of John Hancock. “Skills First has not only shifted the way we think about hiring for internships, but how we think about recruiting and hiring across the board. We are proud to partner with the Chamber on this important program, and on all of their economic opportunity efforts.” 

“We believe that with strong corporate commitments, Skills First has the potential to give more young people access to the internships that can make a difference in their career trajectories,” said JPMorgan Chase Program Officer, Abby Marquand. “As a firm we are always researching organizations that are offering innovative solutions to promote career mobility, especially for those who are systematically underserved by the ways companies have typically identified and promoted talent.”

In addition to corporate partners, the GBCC worked with dozens of pipeline partners such as college career services offices and college access and success organizations - like UMass Boston, Bottom Line and the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology – to funnel students to these internship postings. These partnerships produced a diverse and qualified pipeline of applicants: our pipeline partners were the referral source of 40 percent of all open applications.

With the official launch of Skills First, the GBCC is now opening up the hiring platform to both member and non-member organizations throughout Greater Boston. In addition to providing the technology solution, the GBCC will be focused on supporting both corporate partners and pipeline partners in the growth of identity-blind hiring practices and programs designed to achieve the goal of equity and economic opportunity for all. Employers are invited to post internships on the Skills First platform by contacting the Chamber’s Economic Growth Manager, Casey Baines.

Skills First Internships is part of the GBCC’s overall Economic Growth work focused on increasing minority representation in the private sector through supplier diversity, access to internships and jobs, and other diversity, equity, and inclusivity-focused efforts. Other programs of the GBCC Economic Growth initiative include the Pacesetters Program which is a partnership of large and midsized companies who use their collective purchasing power to create opportunities at scale for local, ethnic minority-owned businesses, and the annual multi-day Fierce Urgency of Now Festival that convenes more than 2,000 people across more than 35 events all focused on the experiences of, challenges, and possibilities for young professionals of color.

About the Greater Boston Chamber We are the convener, voice and advocate of our region's business community, committed to making Greater Boston the best place for businesses and people to thrive. We help our members and Greater Boston succeed by convening and connecting the business community; researching, developing and advocating for public policies that contribute to our region’s economic success; and providing comprehensive leadership development programs designed to grow strong business and civic leaders.  Learn more at BostonChamber.com

[1] https://enterprise-go.generalassemb.ly/skills-based-hiring-whitepaper