Equity in Online Food Shopping

By Sara Niccum – Business Strategy Associate

At the start of the pandemic, many people prepared for isolation by stocking up on toilet paper and nonperishable goods. This prophylactic consumption requires that families have liquid resources for immediate spending. But what about families who rely on financial assistance to buy provisions? Restricted resources may preclude them from taking preventative action while more fortunate consumers easily access food and amenities.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps, has run in various forms for 80 years. It is one of few federal initiatives that has always received bipartisan support while having a win-win effect for communities and the economy. This is achieved by allocating funds to the people who need it most, who then responsibly spend their dollars, injecting money into the economy.

While this aid is helpful to buy provisions when they are available, pandemic conditions have limited the availability of some products. Additionally, food insecure individuals may have difficulty traveling to connect with resources. Many consumers are now turning to online shopping to reduce personal exposure and easily access resources; SNAP recipients do not have this luxury of choice. But what if they did?

Twenty-seven states, including Indiana, are experimenting with online spending of SNAP dollars. This is great news for SNAP recipients, retailers and the SNAP program. E-commerce would make it easier than ever to collect data on the program and learn how to maximize its efficacy.

Vendors accepting virtual SNAP must be federally approved, and currently Amazon and Walmart are the primary retailers across participating states. We can do better. By expanding this network of vendors to include smaller-scale, regional vendors like Market Wagon, SNAP dollars could buy high-quality products and fuel the local economy. Sounds like a win-win-win situation we need.

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Stereotypes Hamper

Multi-generational Workforce


By Ellen Soyka – Project Consultant


Will my older employees resent changing from Teams to Slack? Which industries are millennials killing now? Should we be marketing on TikTok? What is TikTok?

With five distinct generations in today’s workforce, workforce services and employers have been asking how Traditionalists, baby boomers, Gen X, millennials and Gen Z behave at work. While think pieces by self-styled “generational consultants” abound, their generalizations about baby boomers hating new technology or Gen Z refusing to wear suits do not hold up under scrutiny. After all, generations consist of millions of people of different genders, ethnicities, backgrounds and personalities.

Scholarly studies of how generations interact with work behaviors have found that one’s length of time in the workforce, and in a specific workplace, are much better predictors of work behaviors and values. As people gain career experience and seniority, they gain greater autonomy over their work, a wider variety of tasks, and higher-impact projects—all of which lead to feelings of belonging and significance.

To foster these feelings and have a more engaged workforce, employers should focus on principles of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) both as a moral goal and a route to better business outcomes.

As with any diverse workplace, best practices for a multigenerational workforce include constant reevaluation of JEDI practices and pursuing respectful communication, opportunity for growth and impact, and promotion that rewards competency, not tenure.

As your workplace reevaluates what diversity and true belonging look like, consider as many aspects of identity as possible! Seeing a person’s age as just another aspect of their identity allows employers to focus on making their diverse workplace respectful, inclusive and rewarding for everyone.

Contact Ellen at:




46 Years in the Life of a Workforce Development Professional

By Pam Furlan – Former Executive Director for Business Employment Skills Team, Inc.

What is the career path of someone living in a small county in Illinois with a bachelor’s degree in French and no desire to teach? That was my dilemma when I graduated from Illinois State University in 1973.

Not a lot of options, that’s for sure, but being a 20-something, I always figured something would come up, and sure enough, it did. The LaSalle County government had a secretary position open for something called the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP), that paid the minimum wage of $2.50 an hour. I had no idea what SYEP was but thought I’d give it a try.

That was May 1, 1974. Fast forward to June 1, 2020, when I retired.

So, what was my career path during those 46 years? Well, SYEP led to CETA, CETA led to JTPA, JTPA led to WIA, and WIA led to WIOA. Follow that? Those of you who have been in the workforce development field as long as I have, if any of you are left, will certainly know what all those acronyms stand for. And now that I’ve closed the door on the most rewarding career I could have stumbled upon, it’s a perfect time to think back on how this business has evolved–and boy has it evolved.

It all started with SYEP, a summer program for low-income youth. In our area, SYEP was strictly a work experience program for about 100 kids, and it rolled right into the much larger Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) that fall.

CETA continued to provide youth with work experience positions, but it also provided funding to help low-income and/or unemployed adults obtain Public Service Employment (PSE) positions, subsidized 100% with program funds, at public and not-for-profit entities. CETA programs were administered by counties or cities with populations of at least 100,000, and the U.S. Department of Labor had direct oversight of local areas, or “prime sponsors” as we were called. Units of local government that did not meet the minimum requirements were grouped into balance-of-state areas, with the state serving as the prime sponsor.

Each prime sponsor was required to have a Manpower Services Council to advise us on our annual plans, and funding was not really a problem. Our prime sponsor barely made the minimum population cut, but one year we had a budget of as much as $12 million. Yep, $12 million for one county of 110,000 people. Compare that to your population size and budget today!

CETA was followed by the Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA). This program began a series of many major transitions. The first major change was that we no longer reported to the U.S. Department of Labor but rather to our respective state. Our program focus changed from placing job seekers in public sector employment to training for employment in the private sector. Our advisory councils became Private Industry Councils (PICs) to reflect the larger role of the business community in designing programs and developing our strategic plans. The legislation went so far as to require that PICs be comprised of at least 50% business members, and only business members could serve as chairs.

Under JTPA, the adult program as we knew it under CETA continued to serve low-income adults, but a new program was added for “dislocated workers,” adults who lost jobs through no fault of their own. Each program received its own allocation and at least in Illinois, the entities administering the adult and youth programs were not the same entities that administered the dislocated worker programs—which made for some interesting working relationships.

By the middle of the ’90s, the dislocated worker program providers in Illinois were co-located with the Illinois Department of Employment Security, our Wagner-Peyser partner. I guess in a way, it could be said that this arrangement was the predecessor of today’s One-Stop Centers—or American Job Centers, take your pick.

Total funding for workforce programs fell dramatically over the life of JTPA, even though the minimum population requirement went from 100,000 to serve as a prime sponsor to 200,000 to serve as a single entity or a consortium of entities in service delivery areas. (Locally, we added three counties to become a four-county SDA consortium.) Wow! JTPA took some major adjustment time!

Then came the Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The act was the first attempt to bring federal programs together to increase and measure employment, employment retention, skill attainment, and earnings of our customers. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was entered into by various partners that described how these goals would be achieved. The local business community took on an even greater role. Private Industry Councils became Local Workforce Investment Boards (LWIBs), with designated representation from business (still at least 50%), labor, education, and other community stakeholders.

The LWIB’s main responsibilities were to coordinate federal, state, and local funding into our workforce development programs, focus on meeting the needs of local businesses and oversee the local workforce partner system. Oh, and the funding kept going down. So much so, that our local workforce area was approached by a neighboring area to merge in order to maximize staff resources and funding and consolidate program administration and services.

It took about a year, but we finally expanded our Local Workforce Area (LWA) from four counties to eight. The transition took a lot of time and effort. Yet thanks to the state helping get us over the bureaucratic hurdles, and the mentorship of Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership, which had just gone through its own merger of three LWAs, and served as our mentor regarding the do’s and don’ts, we did it! Funding levels became manageable, program services were expanded, and staffing and administrative costs were reduced.

That brings us to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). If you’re reading this article, you are probably familiar with WIOA, the changes from WIA, and what’s working and what’s not. So I won’t take up any of your time explaining all that, except to say, this is where I exit, 46 years later, after nine different U.S. presidents, eight different governors, four different programs, and multiple promotions from secretary to executive director, who, by the way, has forgotten pretty much all the French she learned in college.

But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. Sometimes I wish I would have started a journal my very first day. I could have kept track of the tens of thousands of people who went through all those programs and whose lives I’d like to think have all been changed for the better. I could have kept track of the hundreds of co-workers, colleagues, and board members (many of whom have become good friends) who have been through the ups and downs.

Most of all, I could have tracked the successes and rewards from a career in workforce development, a field that was in its infancy when that 20-something from a small county in Illinois walked into the LaSalle County board office and applied for a job with a federal program described as “something that helps people get jobs.” Looking back on that day now, I realize it was the best day of my life.

To learn more about our work with BEST, Inc. and other workforce partners, contact Senior Project Consultant Kris Subler.

Contact Kristopher at: