Friday, September 21, 2012

Faith in the Future

There was a whole lot of good feeling, and welcome good news, yesterday at a special forum in the White House in Washington D.C. The purpose of the gathering was to shine the spotlight on the legion of faith-filled Americans who are trying to help the unemployed get back to work.

As one of the legion who is actively involved in this mission, I was invited by Ben Seigel of The White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to join U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis at a White House Forum titled:

Job Clubs and Career Ministries: On the Front Lines of Getting Americans Back to Work

The room was packed with ordinary people from all over the country --including Florida, Rhode Island, California, New York, and Kentucky-- who are doing extraordinary things to help their neighbors find the way back to meaningful employment.

Participants included job club and ministry leaders, faith and community leaders, workforce development officials, nonprofit leaders, and others from across the country who are assisting job seekers and workers. It was great to meet people like Dan Lott from the Bayside Career Coaching ministry in Sacramento, California. Also present from New Jersey were John Fugazzie of Neighbors Helping Neighbors, and Anna Maria Miller, Director of Human Resources at The Bank of Princeton, an employer that hires talent from job clubs.

Over the course of the morning, the gathering of over 100 shared many emotional stories, about challenges, programs and successes, from all corners of America. What really came through from all the different regions and efforts was a strong sense of What Works:

Local efforts - The closer to the need, the better. As well-intentioned as government may be, the real innovations and successes are driven at the local level by ministries and community groups that are closest to the unemployed and their families. The local level is where the need is best understood and the programs have the biggest impact.

All hands on deck - If there was one phrase uttered more than any other it was "We can't do this alone." The only way to address this painful issue of unemployment is to get every stakeholder involved, especially the job seekers, program providers, schools, libraries, the community, and employers. In a word, partnerships.

Networking - Although we all knew this walking in the room, it became crystal clear that the key skill for job seekers is networking.

Getting connected with employers - One speaker, who founded the job clubs of Rhode Island, said that, while networking as a skill is vital, it's not enough. There must also be a way to connecting directly with the employers in the local area. Many other speakers echoed this, several recommending the establishment of Employer Councils to work directly with the job clubs.

And one more, of course:

The power of groups - Whatever you call them, wherever and whenever they meet, grouping for mutual support is the most important thing. There is strength in numbers. And job seekers need all the support and strength they can get.

It was this last item, grouping for job search support, that first brought me to Ben Seigel's attention when his team member Ashley Gerwitz requested a copy of the guide that Janice Lee Juvrud and I wrote back in 2009 to assist those who wanted to start a group in their local area.

Soon after we published our guide, it was recognized by Margaret Riley Dikel, publisher of The Riley Guide (one of the best internet resource sites for job hunters) as a recommended resource for areas lacking support groups.

Janice and I were well-positioned to author this guide because of how fortunate we and other job hunters are to live in the State of New Jersey. New Jersey is packed with support groups! It was the first state, back in 1989, to officially launch job search support groups. Originally called Professional Service Groups (PSGs), they were sponsored by the State Department of Labor as havens in the rough economy for anyone seeking employment.

What made the PSGs unique, and a national benchmark for such groups, was the idea of members helping other members. Anyone who joined a PSG was expected to join a subcommittee and volunteer some time each week to help run the PSG. The subcommittee work, while unpaid, was real work, and therefore considered as job experience. Today, some of the original PSGs are becoming non-profit organizations so that they can carry on this great legacy.

When my church, St Matthias in Somerset, NJ, decided to start an employment ministry, several of us brought the PSG spirit with us as we formulated our vision for outreach to the community.

Let's look ahead, with faith in the future, that working together we can help all Americans get back to work.

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Friday September 21, 2012

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