Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas Launches New Initiative to Train Employees in Artificial Intelligence

By Gregg Hibbeler, Director of Marketing and Communications, Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas

The future is here. Many sectors including automotive, manufacturing, health care, finance and fashion are utilizing Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, automation and augmentation to meet production, inventory and distribution challenges. Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas (Kansas City, MO) announced the launch of an initiative to put the nationwide non-profit organization at the forefront of this burgeoning high-tech revolution.

“Traditionally, organizations in the not-for-profit space have lagged behind many other sectors in terms of technology,” says Ed Lada, Jr., President and CEO of Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas. “That no longer needs to be the case. Rapid and increasingly affordable developments in AI and robotics present many exciting opportunities for well-positioned organizations.”

The Artemis Initiative will empower the workforce of the future by planning, training and educating job seekers on the future state technologies and the evolution of jobs and the labor market. At the launch event, guests saw examples of the possibilities for augmenting the human experience, including collaborative robots, autonomous vehicles, and mixed reality applications. They also experienced how technology can be ethically intertwined with everyday job functions for disadvantage workers to create truly integrated employment opportunities.

Lada says that Goodwill is a perfect candidate for integrating high-tech processes into its practices. A recognized leader in sustainability, Goodwill of Western Missouri and Eastern Kansas diverts more than 17 million pounds of donated materials from local landfills annually. The organizations resells, reuses or recycles these items to finance the majority of its workforce development programs that include job training and placement for people with different abilities who face barriers to employment. Lada envisions cobots working alongside employees in its retail stores to sort, categorize, price and inventory donated items. Technology already exists to photograph clothing or donated goods and to identify not only what it is, but also its brand, condition and current resellable market value. The opportunities that this one component of AI alone presents for Goodwill’s retail business are game changing, Lada says.

“This is never about replacing people with bots,” Lada said. “Our Associates will be trained to operate the systems and the robots. Our people will develop both digital and hands-on hard skills while continuing to provide Goodwill shoppers with exemplary customer service because the extremely time-consuming function of sorting mountains of donated materials has now been automated.”

One of Goodwill’s lead strategic partners in this venture is York Exponential, an expert in developing and implementing AI systems. The two organizations formed the Artemis Initiative and hosted a kickoff event today at Goodwill’s new Crossroads headquarters. Goodwill CEOs from across the nation, along with volunteers, board members, community partners, Kansas City’s tech leaders and the media attended the event to learn more about the Fourth Industrial Revolution and what the future holds for Goodwill and the thousands of people it serves daily.