Helping New Orleans Recover from the Covid-19 Economic Fallout

On Nov. 19, 2020, Upriver Solutions founder and CEO Courtney Williams met with the Mayor of New Orleans, LaToya Cantrell, along with members of her team and the media. The primary purpose of the meeting was for Mayor Cantrell to reintroduce JOB 1, her Office of Workforce Development, which underwent significant improvements this year. This Office is more important than ever, and will play a key role in putting New Orleanians back to work both now and in the future. 

The meeting gave Mr. Williams an ideal opportunity to showcase his latest venture, Upriver Solutions, an upskilling, placement and retention support company focused on business-oriented jobs in the tech industry. The training arm of Upriver Solutions is Skillz Academy, and its first program is an immersive, eight-week tech sales training program that is specifically designed for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.  The goal of Skillz Academy is to take people with latent sales talent from industries like hospitality and retail, and retrain them for entry level sales and customer success roles in tech companies both locally and nationally. Skillz Academy’s first program is scheduled to launch with a cohort of 20 candidates in late January 2021.

The launch of Upriver Solutions comes at a pivotal time for the city of New Orleans. It is estimated that 44,000 New Orleanians have lost their jobs due to Covid 19, mostly in the hospitality sector. Mr. Williams points out that the same skills that make someone successful in hospitality can lead to success in tech sales. As he puts it, “I think we can find a lot of those folks, retrain them to do that job, which is at a much higher wage.” This could have a transformative impact on the city and the individuals who live here, many of whom are now out of work. 

Upriver Solutions is rooted in Mr. Williams’ experience at the helm of TORSH, a NOLA-based education technology company that he founded in 2012. One major point of frustration for him as CEO was that, as a person of color, he wanted to hire diverse candidates for a variety of  roles, but struggled to find people with the right set of skills and qualifications. Ultimately, in late 2019, he worked with JOB 1, the Mayor’s workforce development arm, to recruit and hire four New Orleaneans who had no previous experience in sales.  He then put them through a customized training program that he devised, trained them and hired them. Now, a year later, they are among Torsh’s top sales people. 

Based on his experience working with JOB 1, Mr. Williams realized that the right talent for tech companies exists right here in New Orleans and in other cities like it around the country. What  is missing, however, is a trusted intermediary that knows how to find the right talent, train them and connect them with the right companies looking to build successful and diverse workforces.  According to Williams, “Our communities have latent talent that is not being properly utilized. And so in forming this company, I want to get into the community, find that talent, and retrain them to do the tech jobs of the future.” 

There is an urgent need to put New Orleanians back to work with jobs that pay well, provide benefits, and can support the financial health of individuals and families. And that’s where Upriver Solutions really shines. After completion of its sales program, participants work in sales, business development, account management or customer success at one of Upriver Solution’s partner companies. These jobs pay a minimum salary of $40,000 per year plus benefits and commissions. 

You can watch Mr. Williams’ entire presentation to the Mayor and her office below:

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