Goodwill Programs Break Down Employment Barriers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Besides technology and some cultural trends, little has changed in the two decades Robert Mitchell has been helping people obtain the necessary skills for employment.

Mitchell, workforce development and community engagement coordinator for Youngstown Area Goodwill Industries, says overcoming social and economic hardships continue to be employment barriers. Throughout his 21 years of teaching and assisting people in the Job Placement Program, Mitchell has identified fundamental needs like food, shelter and economic struggles as common barriers to employment.

“It’s a combination of everything, transportation, both public or private, disabilities,” he explains. “Some people are homeless and housing takes precedence over getting a job.”

However, Mitchell points out people need a job in order to pay for housing. Other workers have been displaced and need training to enhance their skills, but have limited time due to working multiple jobs trying to make ends meet.

“Finding child care also can be an issue, especially if the job is an afternoon or late shift, Mitchell says. “Sometimes it’s a lack of digital know-how because everything is moving in that direction with applying online.”

Some of the cultural changes Mitchell has seen include job seekers with undiagnosed or untreated mental-health conditions that result in on-the-job outbursts or an inability to work with and appropriately communicate with others, he says. Along with increased mental health conditions, Mitchell says some job seekers struggle to pass drug screenings, have a felony record or a suspended license and lack the funds to become reinstated to drive.

The Goodwill job placement program offers free drug screening and background checks.

Mitchell and Christy Bryan, who coordinates job skill classes at the YWCA of the Mahoning Valley, say unemployed people could face negative stereotypes caused by a misunderstanding of low-income realities. Despite nearly 14,000 available jobs in the Mahoning Valley and Western Pennsylvania, according to Northeast Ohio Aligning Opportunities report, Bryant says landing a job isn’t always that simple.

Unforeseen health issues, layoffs, divorce or being forced to re-enter the workforce because retirement isn’t affordable are life circumstances that don’t discriminate, she says.

Rosa Williams of Struthers takes part in a job skills workshop at the YWCA. She hopes to get back into the workforce after spending 15 years as state-tested nursing assistant.

Goodwill and YWCA offer job training and placement programs that provide follow-up services for up to a year. Goodwill also offers a Job Club every Monday in which current and former participants are connected on-site with employers and jobsite tours, and can speak with partner employers about developing interview skills.

On Jan. 24, Goodwill and Buckeye Health Plan are hosting a career fair from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Goodwill Industries building at 2747 Belmont Ave. Six companies will be on hand to discuss employment opportunities and interviews. Participants can also receive free resume development.

Mitchell and Bryan have seen an uptick in the number of older adults entering the programs. Mitchell recently had a man who was 70 in a class, he says.

“There’s a big age gap in some of the classes,” Mitchell says. “Some seniors are looking for more to do, something to keep them active and others are going back to work to supplement their benefits.”

Because Goodwill’s program receives Youngstown Community Development Block Grant funds, it is only available to Youngstown residents. New classes are offered monthly and last six to eight weeks. Participants are paid minimum wage during class time.

Participants must be referred by a community or social service agency like the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley, veterans groups, Beatitude House or Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation. Candidates must pass a drug screen.

The three-week YWCA program is free and participants who complete it will receive a $100 stipend, Bryan says. The training helps with resume creation, interviewing and computer skills, job coaching and follow-up services.

Limited job coaching is available to assist with on-the-job performance skills or interpersonal skills for job retention. Participants can be linked to local resources, financial literacy education and assistance with E-file or paper filing for federal and state taxes, as well as help with filing for public benefits through the Ohio Benefits Bank.

Goodwill’s Job Placement Program has a more than 80% success rate, Mitchell says. A candidate is considered successful after retaining a job for 90 days.

One of those success stories is Pedro Guzman Castro. He had worked from a young age in his native country of Puerto Rico before coming legally to the U.S., ending up in Ohio, he says. Castro worked locally until losing his job at a plastic manufacturing plant.

Not long after losing his job, he became homeless and ended up at the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley. After being referred to the Job Skills Program at Goodwill, he graduated and has been employed at Goodwill’s Belmont Avenue location since September.

While English isn’t Castro’s first language, his desire to work and his strong work ethic far outweigh any language barrier, MItchell says. Castro’s girlfriend sometimes is available to translate, but some things don’t need to be interpreted.

“He’s like a father to me,” Castro says of Mitchell, placing his hand over his heart. He smiles and says he likes his job, expressing his gratitude toward Mitchell. His daily philosophy is, “Just be happy every day. Just be happy.”

Successfully placing people in jobs is one of many services Goodwill provides to the community that many are unaware of, says Denis Robinson, chief compliance officer and director of mission services at Goodwill.

“One of our hopes is to strive to change the stigma of what Goodwill is and what we’re really doing,” he says. “We’ve always been known as an entity that works alongside individuals who have barriers to employment more so with disabilities; however, those barriers to employment are not only for people who have disabilities but all people have barriers to employment.”

Some of the deficiencies people face in finding employment is a lack of basic computer skills, he notes.

“We live in a digital world,” Robinson says. “People may have a cell phone or a tablet, but they don’t realize that the majority of jobs require some sort of digital skills.”

Training programs at Goodwill range from teaching people how to use cell phones up to obtaining an entry-level Google IT certification. Getting people job-ready is a goal Robinson says makes Goodwill a driver toward economic development.

“Workforce development is economic development if you really, really look at it,” Robinson says. “We’re trying to give a workforce the tools and opportunities they need in order to make a decent wage, have a better quality of life and sustain that, not only from job to job but as a career. Here at Goodwill, we want to prepare you for a career.”

Goodwill has been working to forge community partnerships with businesses and social service agencies. Robinson says he sees improvement in partnerships, but it takes time to build and engage those relationships to make them mutually beneficial.

“We’re all in a place where we need funding and we’re all in a place where we need the numbers, but we have to look past the numbers and look at those people who represent those numbers,” he says.

Free computer training at Goodwill runs now through March 27 beginning at 3 p.m. weekdays. Monday is Welcome to Computers, Tuesday is devoted to learning typing skills, Wednesday explores tools and tricks of Microsoft Word and Excel, Thursday’s class specializes in job search techniques and job application support and Friday deals with finding employment through job search websites and creating LinkedIn profiles.

Goodwill also can customize a training program that is based on an individual’s skill level. The computer lab also is open for public use.

Goodwill’s new mobile digital training vehicle, Motive, travels to community destinations for digital skills training and offers vision screenings throughout the five-county region. To schedule Motive, call Goodwill at 330 759 7921.

Pictured above: Youngstown Area Goodwill’s Denis Robinson, chief compliance officer and director of mission services; Pedro Guzman Castro, job skills graduate; and Robert Mitchell, workforce development and community engagement coordinator.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.