The Other Pieces of Job Readiness

February 29th, 2016

In the workforce development world, we put a lot of emphasis on skill-building in hopes of helping job seekers become “ready to work.” While one aspect of becoming “job ready” is understanding the importance of dressing professionally for a job interview, another extremely important piece is having access to appropriate clothing and a place to store it until you need it. Without the clothing – or a place to keep it clean and pressed – many job seekers lose the opportunity on that first impression.

For someone living in poverty, being “job ready” is more than just finding the right words on your resume to showcase your strengths, practicing answers to common interview questions, and committing to being a reliable employee. It takes access to material items such as clothing, uniforms, boots, tools – ones that cost money already budgeted for prescriptions or a bill. Obtaining those items also takes time, something many job seekers are short on. Job seekers relying on emergency shelters for a place to stay are at a particular disadvantage, as they have limited storage space and need to be back at the shelter by curfew to be guaranteed a place to sleep. Folks in the toughest situations (poverty, homelessness, recovery, re-entry after incarceration, etc.) can easily find themselves in a catch-22 situation if they are offered employment, having to make difficult financial and life decisions that may have a domino effect. While working with job seekers at Paul’s Place, I see the struggles our guests are challenged with in the face of opportunity.

Some demands of job searching and job retention are the same regardless of your income level or where you sleep at night. However, when your bank account is empty, you have to answer the questions of how you’re going to get to work and if you can get the required uniform in time for you first day. Maybe you need to find $50 for those steel-toed boots that are required in the warehouse. Whatever those challenges might be for the individual, they are real, and I would argue that they comprise the unspoken side of job readiness.

Since job readiness encompasses more than just learning about employer expectations and mentally preparing to pursue your goals through stellar job performance, it makes sense for workforce development programs to structure services to meet both needs. What is unique about the partnership between Paul’s Place and Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake is the way they are able to address both needs in collaboration, without over-reaching or getting spread too thin. Goodwill’s niche is helping individuals develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need to secure and retain employment. Paul’s Place has been responding effectively to some of the most basic needs felt in Southwest Baltimore for over 30 years.

Through a partnership that puts me on-site at Paul’s Place, the two organizations are able to offer that capacity-building piece (job readiness) along with access to the tangible items necessary to get yourself to an interview: bus tokens, a working cell phone, a computer with internet access, professional clothing. This allows Paul’s Place to be something akin to a one-stop shop for removing barriers to employment, which is not only convenient, but necessary for helping to overcome some of the most significant barriers. Since it is not realistic for job seekers experiencing homelessness to maintain a professional wardrobe on standby for when an interview opportunity arises, it is critical to have reliable, quick access to interview outfits in the Paul’s Place Marketplace if an interviewer wants to meet tomorrow. For me, it’s a great example of something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Together, Paul’s Place and Goodwill are helping individuals pursue stability and self-sufficiency by building successful, independent lives. Using the expertise of both agencies, they are helping to turn job opportunities into realistic paths to getting out of the shelter and into stable housing, to preventing another utility shut-off, and to going back to school.

By Ellen Craven, MSW, Employment Specialist