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Community Based Organizations: Where Talent and Opportunity Meet

Published Oct 29, 2020 by Susan Moore

Watch a recording of the UpSkill Works Forum above

According to the new WorkingNation American Workers Survey, 56 percent of workers said they didn’t know whether there were local training programs nearby that could help them get the skills they need and into available jobs they might want.

Workers who don’t know about these opportunities could be missing out on gaining the skills and credentials they need to grow their careers. 

During an UpSkill Works Forum held in late October, leaders in three Houston area organizations that provide employment services, financial coaching and career readiness programs, along with an array of other services – Mary Silbert, Northwest Assistance Ministries learning center director; Samantha Sherman, Wesley Community Center chief program officer; and Eric Goodie, Houston Area Urban League area vice president of growth and sustainability – discussed how organizations such as theirs are uniquely equipped to help employers tap into talent and individuals follow pathways to good employment and greater economic opportunity. The session was hosted by Peter Beard, Partnership vice president of regional workforce development and leader of the Partnership’s UpSkill Houston initiative.

Northwest Assistance Ministries (NAM) offers an array of workforce development programs along with food, rent and housing assistance programs and family violence services as well as senior and pediatric health clinics.

Wesley Community Center provides financial stability programs as well as family wraparound services ranging from an early childhood care center to food, rent and utilities services, to emergency financial assistance.

Houston Area Urban League (HAUL), which is affiliated with the National Urban League, has a mission to empower African Americans and other minorities to secure economic self-reliance, parity, power and civil rights through education, housing, workforce development and training, and through health initiatives and entrepreneurship programs. 

All three organizations are part of the United Way of Greater Houston’s THRIVE network, which helps families build stronger financial futures by acquiring skills and education, obtaining better jobs, developing good financial habits and building savings.


Organizations Focus on In-Demand Skill and Credentials

Goodie, Silbert and Sherman shared how their organizations set up clients for success by providing career coaching and skills training.  

HAUL runs an Urban Apprentice Jobs Program, designed to create apprenticeship pathways that connect underserved communities with nationally recognized credentials needed for high-growth, high-demand employment. Additionally, it operates an Urban Tech Jobs Program that provides certifications and instructs individuals how to use digital tools like Google Analytics, Amazon Web Service applications, CompTIA A+ Certification as well as National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER) programs creating employment pathways in areas including construction, supply chain, petrochemical and manufacturing.

Northwest Assistance Ministries offers training programs for administrative roles and health care roles, but, Silbert said, NAM emphasizes that individuals have to be lifelong learners and focus on their long-term goals, even if that means taking a job that may be in a field not directly connected with their immediate training program. Any experience or training will come in use in the future.

“We have them constantly thinking about the next step, the next training, the next education. That's a conversation we have with clients from the very beginning,” Silbert said.  

NAM programs also emphasize customer service as a key skill transferable across a number of positions and fields, she said.

Goodie emphasized soft skills as a complement to occupational training insomuch as they will help individuals present themselves to employers in a virtual interview setting and help once someone is working for those employers remotely.


Relationships with Employers and Other Organizations Strengthen Coaching

NAM, Wesley Community Center and HAUL have built relationships with employers that allow them to keep connected with changing employment or skill needs. The organizations use that intelligence to offer programs and services that align with employer demands. 

These relationships have helped HAUL understand employers’ priority needs and whether their application processes have been streamlined. HAUL has also held specific recruitment events where employers and clients can speak specifically about opportunities and rigors of the roles on a very granular level.

“It turns it into more of a career exploration, where the employer is really able to talk about their company, the career opportunities, opportunities for advancement [and answer] some specific granular questions about what the daily rigors of those jobs entail, and then, of course, how to apply,” Goodie said.

The organizations have also built relationships throughout the larger ecosystem of organizations that provide essential services and support to individuals and families, allowing them to help clients solve or manage a variety of hurdles like finding childcare or obtaining transportation.

“We have the relationships in the community to make it easier for our clients to access those resources and so find what they need now and to free up their time so they can do what's right in front of them today,” Sherman said.

Client relationships do not end with employment, and the THRIVE network has helped organizations make referrals and continue supporting individuals.

“Getting the job is not the end goal. It’s building the career, it’s building financial stability,” Sherman said. “It is staying with the client as they continue with the journey.”


COVID-19 Has Driven Coaching Adaptations

Goodie, Sherman and Silbert shared how their organizations have adapted to meet the needs of clients and employers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Part of HAUL’s pivot included its shift to offering digital tool credentials, but it also incorporated mental wellness into its weekly employment orientation, Goodie said. The digital divide forced some programs to become hybrid ones and feature virtual components and physical textbooks.

The pandemic forced Wesley Community Center and NAM to change how they assessed clients and their approach to coaching.

Clients have had to adapt, too, Silbert said, like sharing computer equipment and resources with children and/or spouses. 

“It’s rewarding to see our clients hang in with us and step up, and really continue with the programs and continue with training,” Silbert said. 


Learn more about the UpSkill Houston initiative. View all past UpSkill Works Forums.

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