A message from the President and CEO,
Ed Lada, Jr.
My vision for leading our organization is simple: to empower.
With these eventualities comes tremendous opportunity; opportunity where generational wealth will not matter, and what will matter is access to opportunity, training, and education within these future state technologies. My vision will see Goodwill develop technological business solutions leveraging artificial intelligence by way of computer vision learning, virtual/augmented reality training, robotics, and 3D printing. But more importantly, it will show the people we serve a way to work alongside these technologies, program and train these applications, and service these solutions in order to create employment pathways that move away from minimum wage jobs to life-changing jobs that help create wealth for the most disenfranchised.
Make no mistake, the future state of work is already here. Self-service lines at grocery stores and fast-food restaurants; LMV Automotive in Liberty, MO created an academy to train people how to work on their robotic systems within their automotive plant; Tesla has autopilot; and who would have predicted that a “social media influencer” was going to become a career path. There are very few, if any, nonprofits in the Kansas City area that are focusing on workforce development for the future state of work, especially as it relates to adults and people with barriers to employment. Meanwhile, we are teaching coding in our middle and high schools, having robotic competitions in school, doing hack-a-thons, etc. We have focused so much time and resources in preparing our children but have not begun to really think about the reskilling and upskilling of a workforce that now has 5 generations in it. And as Baby-Boomers continue to retire at a rapid pace, we are seeing the knowledge and skills gap quickly growing to crisis proportions, depending on the industry.
What makes our Goodwill different is that we ARE focusing on this vision. We are about to go into a prototype development that will see people with diversabilities and other barriers work alongside weak A.I. by way of computer vision learning and train and maintain these systems; we are exploring teaching them how to program and code robotics (yes, you no longer need a degree to do this, just an tablet and a few minutes) with community partners; and we are beginning discussions on how we could best leverage virtual reality as a way to train people before and after employment in various industries. These moves are the beginning stages of the foundation that will not only make Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas leaders in innovative training around innovative technology, but it will also position us to be able to take what we build and scale it to other Goodwill’s around the country. In fact, we already have a 3rd of the entire Goodwill movement from a revenue (nearly $2b) and people served (nearly 600k annually) standpoint signed to an memorandum of understanding that if we build these types of systems, they will have interest in scaling it within their own organizations and communities. What we are trying to build here, in Kansas City, has the potential to leave its mark across every Goodwill in America, eventually. To take a 100 year old brand in Goodwill and help propel the movement toward another 100 years (or 125 years as is the case with our organization in Kansas City).
Our other big, hairy, audacious goal is to create a fully curated virtual Goodwill thrift store for the individual shopper/donor. By leveraging A.I., computer vision learning, and virtual/augmented reality, we believe that we can create a shopping and donor experience that would be fully customizable to the needs of the individual. The reason why this is important is because it will allow Goodwill to better serve our shoppers and donors, which will in turn allow us to divert more waste from landfills while also providing affordable, gently used items to people in need, all across the country as well as in Kansas City. Last year, our Goodwill diverted over 14 million pounds of garbage from the landfill through our resale, salvage and recycling operations.
If we were able to open up new markets in used clothing, we would not only greatly increase our environmental sustainability efforts, but we would help modernize our economic engine, our thrift operations, that helps fund the majority of our workforce and mission services to our community. We have been fortunate in that we are one of the few non-profits that do not rely solely on philanthropy, however our model is an old one and has been greatly affected by the “retail apocalypse” like other big box and small retailers. The needs of the shoppers and donors of used goods are still there and will likely always be there, but as our margins decrease, so do our ability to serve the community and grow.
The Artemis Initiative will build the foundation upon which all else will be achieved as it relates to the preparing for the future state of work for the people we loyally serve. It is partnerships like these that open eyes, open hearts, and propel change.
Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this issue, and our proposed solutions. Together, we will empower the workforce of the future.