Kangaroos & Videos

Ron White was honored with the North Hennepin Area Chamber of Commerce Service to the Chamber Award for his unconventional approach to building the local workforce.
Kangaroos aren’t a common sight in Hennepin County, but Ron White needed an attention grabber.

As director of the Suburban Hennepin and Carver County Workforce Area, he and his staff pair employers with job candidates. On some days, that includes planning job fairs, coaching or sharing resources with applicants. Other days, they’re planning “sector panels,” gathering a cross-section of experts within an industry to share insights and network with job-seekers. And one day, when the tried-and-true resources just weren’t cutting it, they called in a marsupial.

“If you think about it, many of those looking for work are taking care of kids during the day. They skip events that could match them with the right employer, because they don’t know what to do with their children,” White says. That day, 60 employers and 650 job seekers showed up, with the bottle-fed baby kangaroo serving as an attraction and pastime for kids in tow.
White has been involved in the local workforce arena since the 1980s, when he was a self-described “political hack, working for a county commissioner, who happened to represent Maple Grove and many other North Hennepin cities,” White says. At one point, he ended up in a new job focusing on employment, working his way up and realizing a passion for his new field. Now, he oversees two Hennepin County Workforce Centers in Bloomington and Brooklyn Park, serving more clients than any others in the state. This year, White’s ability to try new things and challenge norms was recognized with the North Hennepin Area Chamber of Commerce Service to the Chamber Award.

Director of chamber operations Bonny McIntyre explains that the award is given annually in recognition of “leadership qualities in our chamber and/or community involvement in others’ business, social, cultural or educational advancement.” White first partnered with the chamber to plan a job fair at the Osseo American Legion and works with the group to support the New Teacher Welcome, where teachers are urged to help students consider additional, less-traditional career paths. The Manufacturers Consortium connects employers with highly-skilled applicants, and the Career Pilots program matches high school students with employers. McIntyre adds White’s consistent willingness to think outside the box and serve others—usually without personal gain—made him a logical nominee and a favorite among chamber members.

White shrugs off the attention and credits his team’s innovation with many of his successes. “Our workforce development team is unique in that we are willing to break up old models of how things have always been done—and do them better,” he says. For instance, they developed a tool that pushes relevant resumes to employers’ smartphones, marrying instantaneous notifications with the ability to add video. That simple capability comes in especially handy for candidates who are atypical or for whom writing is a challenge. White recalls one video his team created of a woman completing office tasks while talking to the camera.  

“What people didn’t realize—until halfway through—was that she was blind,” White says. “She was having difficulty getting interviews and had no interviews for two years. After we marketed her video, she received two job offers in a week and was hired a week later. She is still employed today.” This option has also been an asset to non-English speakers or candidates with highly technical skill sets, because videos showcase their capabilities beyond what a written resume or job interview could ever convey. “It’s amazing what a little creativity can do,” says White. “That’s why I love my job!”

For more on the employment resources offered by the Suburban Hennepin and Carver County Workforce Area, visit the website here.