Nonprofit workforce development groups face influx of job seekers with varied backgrounds

Nonprofits that offer workforce development programming have had to make rapid adjustments this year to train and support a growing number of job seekers who are coming to them with a broader range of backgrounds and experiences.

Efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19 and offer safer learning environments forced training opportunities online, which has highlighted the digital divide and sent programs scrambling to find funds to build inventories of computers and hotspots to lend to job seekers. The loss of physical spaces for information sessions or career fairs has made connecting with some job seekers a bit more difficult, especially if they aren’t active on social media or other platforms that organizations have been using to share resources.

“That physical space kind of provided a place for folks to go if they didn’t have that connectivity, where they can return to,” said Mike Glavin, senior director of talent solutions at Greater Cleveland Partnership. “And without that, there’s just more opportunities for folks to kind of fall through the cracks, which is really sad.”

More than 817,000 Ohioans are receiving employment benefits since the outbreak of the pandemic, and workforce development nonprofits are hearing from more job seekers. And many organizations report serving clients with a range of backgrounds and work histories.

While past recessions have been more industry-specific or narrow in their impact, relatively speaking, the pandemic and its economic fallout have been “unfortunately, equal opportunity,” said Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and research at Team NEO, the region’s nonprofit economic development organization.

“Across the talent spectrum, you’re seeing everything from restaurant workers up through CFOs who have lost their positions due to closures,” he said. “So it doesn’t quite fit in the box.”

The Urban League of Greater Cleveland (ULGC) has been seeing new growth in certain populations of job seekers, including college students who are attending classes remotely and qualified, highly degreed workers who were recently laid off.

“This very highly skilled and highly educated group of individuals was something that the Urban League was known for serving for years,” said Marsha Mockabee, ULGC president and CEO. “I mean for many years, the Urban League was the place that many African Americans, when they graduated from college, this is the first place they came to find a job. So that concept is not new, but we hadn’t had that group of job seekers that we focused on for a number of years.”

ULGC — along with Goodwill Industries of Greater Cleveland and East Central Ohio and Ohio Means Jobs | Cleveland-Cuyahoga County — is part of Ohio to Work, a recently announced program that aims to provide career counseling, training and placement assistance for those unemployed throughout the state. Jobs- Ohio, a private economic development agency for the state, is spearheading the program first in Cuyahoga County, with plans to expand statewide.

The goal is to build on existing work and fill gaps to serve more people, said Cedric Gaddis, regional talent manager for Team NEO, a sponsor for Ohio to Work. The program will offer virtual career fairs, the first of which includes at least 30 Cleveland employers with immediate job openings in health care, manufacturing and IT.

Employers, too, are adjusting their approaches to recruitment. Gaddis said he’s finding a lot of employers are more open to working with re-entry workforce development programs that help previously incarcerated people find jobs.

Many in the manufacturing sector, which didn’t have the same layoffs as many other industries, are trying to come up with creative ways to scale up an incoming workforce, Glavin said. He has heard anecdotally from employers that are reaching across industries to recruit from areas harder hit in the pandemic, such as hospitality.

The Centers for Families and Children and its El Barrio workforce development centers have seen a growth in the clients it typically serves — low-income clients with employment barriers — but also is seeing job seekers who may be unemployed for the first time, said Carole Beaty, the centers’ chief of programs for family and work.

She said they’re seeing individuals who have good, consistent job histories but often in entry-level positions, the competition for which is incredibly tough right now.

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