When jobseekers needed new approaches, the Work4Success program revamped to address their needs. Less than three months later, they encountered another challenge: COVID-19.  

The economy cratered, significantly changing the job landscape, and a statewide quarantine prevented organizers from recruiting participants in person, or inviting them to places like Our Daily Bread Employment Center or St. Edward’s Workforce Development Center for workshops. In response, Catholic Charities this week offered the program’s first online training, opening the session to clients across agency programs.

According to St. Edward’s Workforce Development Center Program Manager Kevin Creamer, more than a dozen clients attended the virtual workshop, along with a similar number of staff members from Catholic Charities and its partners. Creamer worked with staff from 11 Catholic Charities programs to ensure the content and approach met the needs of jobseekers they were encountering.

“When we put the workshop together, we drew from the existing curriculum, but we really needed to build it from the ground up because we had never delivered it in this way,” he said. “A time like this calls on us to act proactively … perceiving the needs and acting on them quickly.”

Pamela Bond, a resident of Catholic Charities’ Hosanna House, had never participated in a virtual workshop. She said she was nervous at the beginning. But she started taking notes as trainers talked about writing a resume, which she knows she needs when applying for the retail jobs that interest her.

“It was very helpful because I want to get back to work,” she said. “With this virus going on, it gives me an incentive to move on with my life.”

Shift in approach

Over more than a decade, Work4Success has offered an intensive, two-week fixed curriculum for all participants. It included training on job etiquette, resume building, interviewing, and other vital employment skills, along with referrals tailored to the needs of individual job seekers. The goal was landing good, long-term employment.

That goal hasn’t changed, but in January, the program shifted to a more flexible workshop approach that allows clients to focus on just the skills they need. Job placement specialists assess clients’ individual requirements as they enter the program, and help tailor the services offered during and after the trainings. People who already have a solid resume, for example, may only attend mock interviews. And clients can choose to join workshops at Our Daily Bread, St. Edward’s, or both locations.

“This helps us to be more nimble in meeting needs,” Creamer explained, adding that the number of participants in the program jumped from around eight per month to about 20.

Personalized support goes digital

Placement specialists give clients personalized support from the moment they enter the program.
“What sets us apart in the way we deliver these services is our commitment to that individual relationship and support,” said Creamer.

Shifting that personal support to a virtual environment has been a challenge, but Creamer said he could envision one-on-one consultations or individual resume support over the Zoom video platform.

He emphasized there will always be a need for in-person trainings, particularly since many clients seek computer skills in the first place. But online workshops broaden the program’s options when considering how to meet clients’ needs – particularly in a difficult employment landscape.

“We’re committed to doing this again,” Creamer said. “The hope is to build this out into something more robust.”

The virtual training is helpful for individuals experiencing homelessness as well. Project REACH offers permanent housing, and Director Rodney Lee said the virtual training helps lower barriers for his residents.

Lee pointed out that community housing can help get as many people into the workforce process as possible. “This is the internal support we need to get it accomplished.”