Ascend Indiana is expanding its reach by using $23.8 million to revamp its online job platform to better connect job seekers to career pathways and expand services to help bridge gaps in workforce needs.
A not-for-profit talent and workforce development initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, Ascend Indiana focuses on connecting workers to jobs, consulting on workforce needs with employers and talent providers in the state and conducting labor market research.
Much of the $23.8 million raised is going toward updating the infrastructure of the Ascend Network, the online job platform that connects college students and job seekers to careers, internships and training opportunities, and also helps employers find candidates for open jobs.
The money comes from fundraising and a string of donations. In 2019, Lilly Endowment Inc. made a $12.75 million grant to the CICP Foundation to help Ascend expand its efforts. Since then, Ascend has raised an additional $11 million, including a $5.25 million match through the Lilly Endowment grant as well as contributions from 45 employers, community partners, and other local and national philanthropies.
The network is expanding to partner with 550 employers from around the state in all industries, from health care to technology. Ascend has connected more than 2,300 individuals with career opportunities, and the goal is to keep building on that, said Jason Kloth, president and CEO of Ascend Indiana.
“It’s going to really extend the reach that we’re able to achieve …. and address the gap between open jobs and the pool of talent to fill those jobs,” Kloth said.
The updated network infrastructure, which includes improved accessibility for those with disabilities, includes a friendlier design and makes it easier and more efficient for users to find a job, officials said.
Kloth described the Ascend Network as an “eHarmony for jobs.” Its services are mainly targeted at college students and recent graduates looking for jobs or internships, with a focus on underrepresented individuals such as first-generation college students, people with lower economic status and people of color.
The system lets job seekers and employers create their own profiles on the platform with the help of Ascend team members and mentors for students. The upgraded system is expected to be more user-friendly, allowing job seekers easier access to look for jobs that not only match their skills but also their work styles. It also allows the Ascend team to match job seekers with positions that best fit their interests. Employers can also actively look for specific candidates and work with Ascend to find matches.
Job seekers can browse the employers’ profiles seeing exact job descriptions, what exactly they would need to do the job, and also view links to media coverage of the company to get an idea of who they would be working for, Kloth said.
There are also features that give job seekers information about the area where the employer is located, including commute times and nearby restaurants and apartments.
Kloth said the goal is to connect potentially thousands more people with career opportunities they might not have known about. He said Ascend officials believe one factor contributing to workforce shortages is potential applicants not knowing where to look for jobs and no social network to connect them with opportunities,
“People go to these job boards and they just get lost,” he said. “They don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know how to look for these jobs.”
The Ascend Network also currently serves the Rapid Re-Employment Response program, in partnership with EmployIndy, to connect dislocated workers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic with career services and support to help them find employment or training. The network expanded in 2020 to accommodate the service.