American businesses: meet your future job applicants

When Ellis Island opened in 1892, it welcomed immigrants escaping war, drought, famine and religious persecution and hoping America would offer them a new start.

Today, the Hillsboro School District is welcoming an increasingly diverse group of students, many of whom left their homes around the world because of brutal wars, punishing poverty, religious and political conflict, violence and/or a simple desire for a better life.

Tobias Elementary School, for example, is filling with children from Central America, Mexico, Ukraine, Thailand, Cambodia, Somalia, Egypt, Iraq and other countries speaking up to 30 languages. The mix depends, to some degree, on where the greatest turmoil and unrest is occurring, according to Steve Callaway, Tobias’ principal.


Many of these students are from low-income and, in many cases, low-educated, families where English is not the first language at home, behaviors and value systems vary widely and the American culture is not deeply embedded.

The shift has been dramatic. In the 1999-2000 school year, Tobias was largely white and culturally homogenous, with just 6.3 percent of the student body from principally mobile Hispanic migrant families and more from a smattering of other ethnicities, including Asian children whose parents worked in high-tech.

By the 2013-2014 school year, minority students from diverse cultures outnumbered white students at Tobias for the first time:

White: 47.8 percent.

Black: 3.5 percent.

Hispanic: 24.7 percent.

Asian/Pacific Islander: 12.2 percent.

American Indian/Alaskan Native: 0.6 percent.

Multiethnic: 11.3 percent.

The trend at Tobias is being replicated at the rest of Hillsboro’s schools, which were 49.5 percent white in the 2013-2014 school year.

Hillsboro School District demographics
Ethnicity No. of students Pct. of students
American Indian 174 0.83
Black 439 2.10
Hispanic 7,475 35.67
Asian 1,341 6.40
Pacific Islander 163 0.78
Multiethnic 965 4.74
White 10,368 48.48
TOTAL 20,955 100.00

Concentrations of children from particular ethnic groups are occurring in certain Hillsboro schools because their families want to live in close proximity. This has led, for example, to 19 Somali students attending Hillsboro’s Imlay Elementary School in the 2013-2014 school year and 15 this school year.

The U.S. Department of Education projects that minorities will outnumber whites among the nation’s public school students for the first time this fall. In other words, the minorities will become the majority.

What this means in the longer term is that Hillsboro’s workforce of the future is going to look quite different from today. Hillsboro’s economic viability and America’s greatness will be diminished if we don’t do all we can to educate these ethnically and culturally diverse children.

It’s critical that we prepare them for success as creative problem solvers and engaged community members in work and life. It’s also essential that we inculcate in them a belief in the American Dream and a commitment to the kind of effort that will bring them social and economic mobility.

“Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” says Callaway. There are so many ways local businesses can show much they care about preparing children for work.

Companies can open their facilities to students who want to learn more about the world of work and career options by offering job shadows and paid internships. “All students need to be more aware of what job opportunities are out there,” says Leslie Smith Mayfield, a 3rd grade teacher and STEM Coordinator at Tobias. “We need help from business to expose kids, even in the elementary grades, to what options there are in the real world. Some bright kids are going to go to waste if they don’t realize the options they can work towards.”

Awareness also needs to expand to the skilled trades, which can offer well-paid, stable careers. For example, Callaway says he’d welcome having IBEW workers come in to teach kids about basic electrical circuitry.

Elaine Philippi, manager of student programs at the Business Education Compact, talks up the BEC STEM Connect TM Initiative. Volunteers from a business visit a school at least four times in an academic year, educating the students about their company, engaging students in activities that promote STEM concepts and collaborative processes and helping out at a science night or other community event.

Employees at local businesses can also get involved by helping with field trips, providing reading assistance, giving technical demonstrations, and even presenting on their hobbies. Astronomy and geology hobbyists, for example, have visited Tobias classrooms.

Businesses can give grants of all sizes to enable schools to offer innovative programs. For example, a Tobias teacher secured a grant to support an engineering math program for 6th grade girls.

Equipment can be donated to enhance the learning experience.

Companies can form partnerships with local schools, as FEI, Intel and Vernier have already done with Tobias.

All of this could help boost achievement levels and increase completion rates at Hillsboro’s increasingly diverse schools. That will benefit the local business community down the road when these youngsters enter the job market.

Watch video about Tobias Elementary School

This blog also appeared as a column in the Hillsboro Argus, October 1, 2014

Woodfold Manufacturing redefining business success

Some businesspeople want to do more than just build a successful enterprise; they also want to be a force for good.

In Forest Grove, the leaders of Woodfold Manufacturing believe in the capacity of business to do more than just produce jobs and profits.

Founded in 1957, Woodfold has continued to thrive as an employee-owned and operated company that’s a leading supplier of custom-crafted accordion doors, roll-up doors, hardwood shutters and bookcase doors for residential and commercial installations.

Woodfold has also become a company dedicated to the idea that true business sustainability considers the relationships between the environment, community and people.

Over the years that has meant big reductions in electricity and natural gas use, increases in recycling, achievement of a Forest Stewardship Councilcertification, and even providing free gardening space for a local charter school.

Setting higher bar

On May 14, 2013, Woodfold took a further step by becoming a Certified B Corp. “We became certified because we have always held certain core values at Woodfold, such as working for the long term and measuring things in regard to the triple bottom line,” said Justin Norman, Woodfold’s vice president for business development.

A company’s B Corp status is conferred by B Lab, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, on business entities that meet certain criteria. A certification means the company’s policies and practices have been verified to be sustainable through a rigorous process called the B Impact Assessment.

“Woodfold’s first commitment is to our people and doing the right thing,” said the company’s CEO, Mark Lewis. “It just so happens that a commitment to those to things makes it pretty easy to meet the B Corp certification standards.”

A company can become a B Corp regardless of its legal structure so long as it scores well on B Lab’s assessment and verification process. There are currently 894 certified B Corporations in 29 countries.

By voluntarily meeting higher standards of transparency, accountability, and performance, Certified B Corps are distinguishing themselves in a cluttered marketplace by offering a positive vision of a better way to do business, B Lab says.

Simply seeking B Corp certification can have benefits, too. “Despite scoring relatively well on the certification, we still have a long way to go, as do almost all B Corps, because neither us nor anyone to my knowledge has ever attained a perfect score,” Norman said. “Since we are big into continuous improvement, it would not make any sense for us to stand still and not try to keeping improving things here at Woodfold, which in turn will lend itself to a higher score down the road.”

There are also rewards to just participating in the B Lab review because companies become more aware of evaluation standards and can set goals for improvement.

B Corps vs. Benefit Companies

As we begin 2014, Woodfold faces another decision: whether to also become a Benefit Company. B Corps and Benefit Companies sound similar, but they are quite different and the difference goes beyond semantics.

A state law permitting businesses to become Benefit Companies took effect in Oregon on January 2, 2014. Securing a B Corp designation is more a branding effort than a legal step. To embrace legally binding sustainability obligations, a business must register as a Benefit Company.

Benefit companies write into their governing documents that management is permitted to pursue social and environmental benefits alongside shareholder interest. That means they can are make business decisions that run contrary to maximizing shareholder value, putting purpose over profits.

According to the MIT Sloan Management Review, this goes beyond traditional corporate social responsibility, where companies support social and charitable programs that improve the corporation’s image. It is, instead, about managing and holding organizations accountable for performance targeted at optimizing a combination of financial, social and environmental outcomes.

“We want to make sure that things play out as expected before we go for Benefit Company status in Oregon,” said Lewis. “One of the things we try very hard not to do at Woodfold is whipsaw our people by constant course changes. The first thing we wanted to do is use the B Corp standards to test our management philosophy. We will explore the pros and cons of becoming a Benefit Corp and make a decision on that later in 2014.”