Since Untapped Potential Founder and President Candace Freedenberg launched in 2015, the organization has steadfastly contributed to economic growth and job creation in our region by connecting seasoned women to workforce opportunities.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price connected with Candace in 2017 to learn about her startup experience (read the IDH feature story: Startup Provides Mentoring, Contributes to Job Placement in CT.) During the COVID-19 crisis, Untapped Potential’s mission has persevered. Nan checked in with Candace to find out how.

NAN PRICE: In a recent presentation you did at the Women Innovate Business Pitch Competition, you noted that Untapped Potential has continued to add value to local businesses and individuals.

CANDACE FREEDENBERG: Untapped Potential ramps up our candidates, who are experienced and educated professionals who opted out of their careers to provide caregiving. As a benefit corporation that believes that motherhood and parenting your own children can be a steppingstone in your career, we’re providing a valuable service to these women because we don’t want them to be sidelined when they attempt to return to work. The flex return model we’ve developed is especially relevant now because it removes the risk from our clients, which are local businesses.

NAN: How so?

CANDACE: In these times of uncertainty, the ability to bring on a full-time employee is challenging because we don’t know what’s coming next with the pandemic. Many businesses don’t know how they’re going to get to a point of profitability after the last few months.

Our flex return engagement brings in an experienced, educated professional women with seven to 10 years of experience who haven’t been actively engaged in the workplace because they’ve been caregivers the last few years. We really value the role they’ve been playing for society. And, together we craft a game plan for them to get back to their caliber.

Untapped Potential reduces the risk for companies to host a FlexreturnTM candidate because we take on the costs or “burden” associated with administering and managing the resource. The company is just hosting a candidate in a mid-career internship, much like they would with a college intern, yet with deliverable-based work, where the candidate can shine and rebuild her skills, contacts, currency, and confidence.

These women have skills and experience. They’re educated professionals, many of whom have meticulous organizational skills. It’s less risky for businesses to bring them in because they hit the ground running. Again, we absorb the risk, so businesses aren’t making a long-term commitment.

A typical flex return engagement is 12 weeks, 20 hours; however, they can be as much as full time or as little as eight hours a week. At the close of the engagement, candidates could become regular employees of that company, but we’re happy if they move on from there and then we launch them after they’ve gained that experience.

NAN: Through the pandemic, has the engagement with businesses and candidates tapered, has it ramped up, or has it been about the same?

CANDACE: It’s been about the same. We were fortunate to host our signature event, the Speed Interview, on March 5, before everything was closed down for social distancing restrictions. The event brings together companies willing to host a candidate for Flexreturn engagement. What’s great is, these companies are intentionally measuring candidates by their skills and their experience without discounting them for time spent away from the workforce while they were caregiving. From that event, we had about seven engagements.

The biggest change has been, while the first interviews following the initial meet were live, quickly they moved to virtual. And, some of the engagements were spread out longer due to the pandemic, because people weren’t in the office, so the engagements have all launched virtually.

NAN: Are many of your candidates’ skills more relevant right now in terms of dealing with the pandemic and having to innovate and learn to do things virtually?

CANDACE: Definitely. We’re always inquiring with our clients to find out what technologies they’re seeing coming down the pipeline—whether it’s growth in data analysis or cybersecurity. Then, Untapped Potential seeks out those best-of-breed learning opportunities—whether they’re global live providers or online certification courses—to encourage our candidates to obtain nanodegrees or certifications so they can return to the workforce market ready.

Our clients get matched with candidates who have demonstrated their tech savviness by working within the Untapped Potential community and using cloud-based tools. So, we know who takes to technology quickly and who needs more help building their skills.

Many women who have spent the last few years caregiving could have prior experience working on one customized software system and haven’t be exposed to cloud-based applications. Other moms have experience using SignUpGenius or other software they’re using to do bidding engines for galas, for example, so they’re climatized to today’s software tools.

NAN: Untapped Potential is celebrating its fifth year in business. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned along the way?

CANDACE: I’ve learned there is power in bringing people together to solve a problem. In this problem, all those contributing to the solution—corporations, small business, startups, nonprofits, and each candidate—have something to gain.

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