Jobs for Life gears jobless for employment

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In 1995, after C.C. Mangum Company paved a parking lot for Pleasant Hill United Church of Christ in Raleigh, the late Chris Mangum, at the time an executive at the company, began meeting for lunch once a week with the Rev. Donald McCoy, pastor at the church.

During one lunch, Mangum told McCoy several trucks the company used to haul rock were parked in its own lot, costing it thousands of dollars a day, because it could not find good drivers.

McCoy replied that able-bodied men and women in his church and neighborhood also were idle because they could not find jobs.

That conversation, and a follow-up lunch with 12 business executives and 12 pastors, led to formation of Jobs for Life, a nonprofit that works with churches, nonprofits and companies to prepare people for work and keep their jobs.

Last year, 4,800 people took the eight-week class of 16 sessions offered by the Raleigh-based nonprofit through 500 churches and community nonprofits in 275 cities in nine countries.

While Jobs for Life teachers resume-writing, interview techniques and other practical skills, its main focus is on the more critical qualities of “identity,” “character” and “community” that job-seekers need to “address the devastating impacts of joblessness,” says David Spickard, the nonprofit’s president and CEO.

“You demonstrate character qualities,” he says. “Smile. Show up on time, ready for work. Don’t blame everybody else for your problems. You do whatever it takes to get the job done. And you’re connected to the community.”

Operating with an annual budget of $1.2 million, six full-time employees and two part-time employees, Jobs for Life now aims by 2020 to be working with 20,000 volunteer leaders at 5,000 churches and nonprofits, delivering training and matchmaking services for 50,000 individuals, Spickard says.

To drive that growth, Jobs for Life is building an open-source online platform that churches and nonprofits can use to get and customize the tools, training and resources they need, says Spickard, who joined Jobs for Life in 1999 as director of operations after working as a business analyst for American Management Systems, a consulting firm in Birmingham, Ala., that provided BellSouth with support for its billing systems.

Jobs for Life is piloting the online system, designed by The A Group in Brentwood, Tenn., near Nashville, and plans to launch it this month at 20 to 25 churches and nonprofits in 15 cities.

The nonprofit also has begun building broader local networks of churches and nonprofits in a handful of metro areas, starting with the Triangle and Nashville.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Spickard says, the Jobs for Life network in the Triangle consisted of only four partners.

Today, its Triangle network includes 32 churches and nonprofits that offer classes.

It is targeting Atlanta, Boston, Charleston, Charlotte and Tampa, and aims to add two of them by the end of the year.

Jobs for Life generates 20 percent of its budget from the sale of curriculum materials for job-seekers, and training materials for volunteers who teach the classes, which are held in churches and nonprofits such as homeless shelters, YMCAs, substance-abuse centers, ministries for youth, after-school tutoring programs, and programs that serve people getting out of prison.

The effort is working, Spickard says: Eighty percent of people who enroll in classes graduate, and 60 percent to 70 percent of graduates get jobs or continue their education.

“Getting a job is 95 percent who you know,” he says, citing challenges such as poor work history or attitude, a criminal record, or a lack of transportation, child care or employment role models. “It’s something entirely different to help them keep that job.”

That’s why we use the church. There’s a who-you-know network on every corner in America, sitting in churches and community nonprofits.”

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