After years of alcoholism, drug abuse and petty theft, Deborah Jane “Janie” Marsh found herself unemployed, homeless and facing almost three years in prison. While incarcerated, Marsh decided she’d had enough of that life.
The 43-year-old completed a rehabilitation program, then took a six-week workforce readiness course run by Goodwill Industries of the Columbia Williamette in Portland, Ore. She learned skills such as how to fill out a job application, how to search for a job, how to dress for an interview and how to address with potential employers her felony convictions for drug possession, burglary and identity theft. Upon her release, the Goodwill Job Connection Program helped her find a job, which she has held for three years. Marsh has earned a college degree in landscape architecture and is pursuing a graduate degree.
“I was connected with a landscaping job that I never would have thought I could do or would have even applied for without the Job Connection specialists’ encouragement and help,” she said. Her story echoes those of hundreds of thousands of the formerly jobless, though not for the nearly 178,000 still unemployed in Oregon. As the unemployment rate drops to 8.3 percent as of January 2012 — 1.3 million fewer Americans were unemployed than in August 2011 — and jobs become more readily available, employers are turning to the nonprofit sector to find workers. And although the unemployment rate remains historically high, millions of jobs are going unfilled because of the lack of skilled workers.
Goodwill Industries International, headquartered in Rockville, Md., is the nation’s largest temporary workforce placement service. Last year, 190,000 people obtained a job utilizing Goodwill’s training and placement services, earning workers roughly $3 billion. Those numbers are growing. During 2010 the number of people employed through Goodwill was 170,000 and $2.7 billion in earned wages, and 2009 saw 159,000 people put to work for $2.5 billion in wages.
“The group we traditionally work with is people with disabilities,” said Karen Means, executive vice president of government and community relations for Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey (GNYNJ), based in Astoria, N.Y., just outside Manhattan. “Of the population that comes to us, 75 percent have some form of disability. But that group also includes the chronically unemployed and underemployed, the homeless, refugees and immigrants. Because of the economy, the (group of) people we’ve traditionally worked with has grown.”
GNYNJ placed 13,300 people in jobs during 2011, which accounts for roughly 15 percent of the 88,000 net jobs gained in New York State across 11 major industries. New York State’s unemployment rate was about 8 percent in 2011, a bit less than the national average of 8.95 percent for the year.
Those trained by Goodwill often land jobs in the janitorial, manufacturing, hospitality, retail, food service and health care industries. Nationwide, Goodwill partners with companies such as GM, Dell, Ford and Lockheed Martin. In New York City, Ryder, 7-Eleven and advertising giant Ogilvy and Mather have recently signed on as partners. “We traditionally focus on a lot of entry-level jobs,” said Goodwill International President and CEO Jim Gibbons. “The populations we serve are often people who have barriers: Someone with a disability, a single mom, a young man who found himself on the wrong side of the law and is trying to do right in his life.”
Means said she’s seen a move to jobs in the fields of office work, data entry, customer service, hospitality and health care during the past 10 years. “These are the areas where we think there will be more jobs available,” she said. “We shift as the workforce and the economy shifts.” Gibbons said he believes that there is more than just industry shifting to consider. “Whether skills are in health care, IT or financial services, the major change is stackable credentials,” he said. “In the ’70s, maybe 23 or 25 percent of jobs required post-high school training. By the end of this decade, it will probably be around 70 percent.”
Gibbons used health care as an example of his point. A certified nursing assistant (CNA) qualification is a start, but many health care jobs require associate’s or bachelor’s degrees. Goodwill, he said, helps people like Janie Marsh prepare to take those next steps. “It really is about building upon the skill set that exists, and the recognition that you always have to be building,” said Gibbons. “My first boss told me, ‘When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you’re rotting.’”
Goodwill is not a temp agency that simply matches people with jobs, though its Manhattan-based GoodTemps division does just that. “The training is really workforce readiness,” said Means. Workforce readiness includes learning how to properly dress for work, peer interactions, working with a supervisor and getting to work on time.
“Employers want people coming to work with a good work ethic, and instilling that is one of the things we do really well,” Means said. “When a person loses a job, it’s not because they haven’t done a good job. It’s usually because of other issues.”
Workforce readiness is big business. The federal government plans to spend $3.2 billion on workforce training and employment programs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, workers who received some sort of work training made $3,000 more annually and had greater employment retention rates after six months than those who did not.
Goodwill will receive little, if any, of that budget, according to Gibbons. “We have Goodwills around the country that will have, through state or local governments, direct arrangements for workforce development programs, evaluation programs, running one-stop (career centers),” he said. “We have had a couple of programs with the Department of Labor. But for the most part, Goodwill’s economic engine revolves around our social enterprise, which is donated goods retail.” Goodwill earns $2.69 billion from retail sales of about $4 billion in annual revenue, and 84 percent of the total revenue goes to support workforce readiness and placement programs.
That said, Gibbons admitted there isn’t much direct competition between his organization and the government or with other charities that do similar work. “There’s always different avenues of collaboration,” he said. “If the state or another local organization is running the program, Goodwill is almost always a partner in the output of talent.”
Part of Goodwill’s success comes from the diverse population it serves and having agencies all over the country. Last year, it employed more than 3,000 people in its own agencies and retail stores. Immigrants, people convicted of crimes, veterans, senior citizens and disabled people can go to one of the more than 165 North American Goodwill agencies for training and career placement.
“People with disabilities are a viable consideration as employees to meet a business need,” said Tony Saputo, vice president of advancement for Lifeworks, based in Eagan, Minn. “Our mission is to communicate the message that this is a reliable workforce, they take pride in what they do, and there is very low turnover.”
One of the biggest barriers that people face when trying to find a job is being unable to translate their skills to their résumés. Veterans have a particularly difficult time with this issue, though due in large part to governmental policies, the rate of unemployment for veterans has fallen from 9.9 percent in January 2011 to 7.5 percent in January 2012. Among the organizations that help veterans find work is Hire Heroes USA (HHUSA) of Alpharetta, Ga. HHUSA also trains its clients in workforce readiness. Since 2008, HHUSA has helped 400 former military service personnel obtain employment.
Veterans have a challenge in gaining access to the private sector jobs. “It’s pretty simple,” said Allison Herbst, director of finance and administration for HHUSA. “One, (veterans) are not taught to transfer skills into civilian life. They don’t know how to put that on paper. And two, a lot have enlisted right after high school and have never interviewed before, so they don’t know what to do.”
Herbst said most veterans have many skills that are attractive to employers and it’s just a matter of quantifying them. Most leave the service with leadership skills, discipline and attention to detail. Some have highly technical skills they’ve obtained through their military occupational specialties. HHUSA helps veterans put those skills onto résumés, and offers training in interviewing and networking.
HHUSA helps place about four veterans into jobs each week, and Herbst said it has very little to do with the strength of the economy. With the White House’s 2011 Hire Our Heroes initiative, Herbst predicts even more corporate partners signing on with Hire Heroes.
People with disabilities have a similar unemployment rate as veterans. According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy, that rate was 12.9 percent in January 2012. Nonprofits like Lifeworks struggle to find jobs for this often-overlooked group. During 2011, Lifeworks found employment for 727 disabled clients, and as a result, the rate of unemployment for Lifeworks clients is about the same as the national average, 4 percent lower than the national average for disabled people, though worse than Minnesota’s December 2011 rate of 5.7 percent.
Like Goodwill and Hire Heroes USA, Lifework trains clients in workplace readiness skills, such as interviewing and résumé preparation. Because its clientele often faces further challenges due to their disabilities, it also provides specialized training for various jobs, sometimes on-site.
“We provide job coaches, individuals who work with clients on the job sites,” said Saputo. Some programs both serve a specific group of people and are highly focused in their job training. For example, FareStart in Seattle, Wash., helps find jobs for the homeless in Seattle by training them in culinary arts. Seattle’s unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in December 2011, compared to 8.5 percent nationally. Students go through a 16-week training program to learn cooking, food preparation and safety. This narrow focus allows an organization to concentrate its often-limited resources.
“The end goal is self-sufficiency and that our students are able to find sustainable jobs,” said Christina Starr, marketing and communications manager for FareStart. “Whether or not that’s in the culinary industry is secondary.”
FareStart provides services to graduated students for a year or more, helping them with life skills such as conflict resolution and working as part of a team, along with workforce readiness skills such as interviewing tactics that most other job placement services offer. Though many FareStart graduates get work in restaurants, some secure jobs in assisted living facilities, hospitals and other institution with food services divisions.
It’s not just about getting a job, said Starr. Because FareStart’s students are homeless and often recently released from jail, “they feel like their self-worth has been taken away from them, and we strive to give that back to them.”
Although there are no national statistics on ex-offender unemployment rates, a study released by the Independent Committee on Reentry and Employment found that up to 60 percent of ex-offenders in New York were unemployed one year after release.
Starr’s statement echoes the goals of most other nonprofit job placement services. Lifeworks, for example, places clients in jobs within the communities in which they live, imparting a sense of belonging that Saputo says most of his clients are seeking.
“We don’t see ourselves as the ones transforming our students’ lives,” Starr said about FareStart employees. “We see (the students) as part of that process. We want them to see themselves as part of the solution.” NPT