Helping people get jobs is what I do. Change that. Helping people to change their mindsets about both the process of getting a job and the changing realities of the workplace is what I do. It is the most rewarding and challenging position to be in, every day. Whether they are 18 or 58, newly graduated or never graduated, employed for 25 years or looking for their first job, the people I see day-to-day are looking for hope; moreover, believing that getting a job will solve their problems.
“Workforce development serves a dual function; enabling individuals to acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes for gainful employment or improved work performance; and providing employers with an effective means to communicate and meet their demand for skills.” (from Workforce Development in Developing Countries: A Framework for Benchmarking, by Robert McGough, Jee-Peng Tan, and Alexandria Valerio of the World Bank). The real work of workforce development is the offer of hope. We tell candidates that when they subscribe to our curricula, open their minds to adopt new behaviors, and shed old habits, they can be successful. Workforce development programs are great at setting marginalized job seekers on the path to successful employment. In the program I facilitate we conduct self-esteem building workshops, role-playing scenarios, basic financial literacy workshops, and the like. Participants are run through the paces of practicing interviewing skills and crafting resumes to fit potential jobs; which results in them exhibiting successful behaviors while they’re in the program. The challenges arise when there’s a transition to the workplace. Self-sabotaging behaviors that were discussed ad nauseam come to the fore. Workers come in late, clock-in, prepare their breakfasts and commence to eat. Or they take and make calls on their cell phones within earshot of the employer, during times they should be working. Or drama occurs at home and they have an attitude with everyone they encounter at the office. Or they get paid on Friday and call out sick on Monday. Therein lies the problem.
Workforce development, in its current iteration, is not a panacea for unemployment. A marriage needs to occur; a blending of the concept/vision of workforce development and the actual work of workforce development. Our programs should keep job-seekers connected to people who genuinely care about and for them, and their well-being. It is disheartening to prepare candidates for successful corporate citizenship only to have them met with subjective rejection by employers. Providers and employers need to display a unified mindset – one that believes that all people want to work. Effective workforce development programs need to adopt holistic practices that deal with the whole person. Employers need to be open to giving someone who doesn’t look like, sound like, or share similar experiences with them, an opportunity to be hired.
To put people back to work, we must meet them where they are. We must make sure they have access to food and decent shelter. Workforce development is not only about teaching people the soft skills necessary to be successful in the corporate arena; it’s about helping people to thrive on every level. I believe we can do the greatest good when providers work in tandem with employers so that the proverbial big picture is clearly understood. The person sitting across the desk during the interview is a human being; with either a wealth of experiences to share, or more heart than knowledge and the desire to be a successful corporate citizen.
It will serve all of us, providers, employers and the candidates we serve, well to remember that.
DeJuan Mason is the Program Facilitator for ImageWorks Consulting Firm – a professional development training firm with a special focus on workforce development issues. For more information about employing candidates from marginalized communities, please contact Ms. Mason at 202-450-4246 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org