Bridging The Gap Between Public Assistance And Self-Sufficiency
BY MARY LEE HARVEY DIRCKS
Goodwill Industries provides job training and educational opportunities for people to bridge the gap between public assistance and self-sufficiency. Many people don’t realize that it’s much more than a place to donate unwanted items or hunt for second-hand treasures. “When most people hear the name Goodwill, they think of our retail stores,” says Linda Kizzier, vice president of employment and training at Goodwill Industries. “Our retail operations support Goodwill’s mission to change lives and strengthen communities through education, training and work.” Goodwill’s training programs serve more than 2,700 people each year, placing more than 500 individuals in permanent jobs in Omaha and surrounding areas. “Everything Goodwill does centers around helping people find employment,” Kizzier adds.
The retail side of Goodwill funds training, education and career development, as well as job placement opportunities for the unemployed, underemployed and disabled. “We sit down one-on-one with every person who enrolls in our programs,” Kizzier says. Case managers help participants map out their desired career path to include realistic steps to move them in the direction of their goals and offer assistance to overcome employment barriers.
“Many of our adult clients have a high school diploma, but their literacy skills are below what they should be to be competitive for jobs that they have an aptitude for,” Kizzier notes. The Customer Connect Program, which trains participants in call center customer service skills, specifically addresses literacy deficiencies through academic testing and tutoring. The program is provided in partnership with Metropolitan Community College (MCC) and funded in part through a grant from the Department of Education. “A case manager works with everyone in the class to provide that additional academic support and to make sure they are on target to meet all the criteria to get that specialist diploma,” Kizzier says.
Goodwill’s Adult Career Program provides personalized career guidance and assistance with tuition and supplies for post-secondary education. “We can’t help with a four-year degree, but we can help you get some training at MCC that will lead to a job that points you toward your career goal,” Kizzier explains. If a client is interested in nursing but doesn’t have a high school diploma, the first step is to get that GED and then perhaps training to get a job as a Certified Nursing Assistant that can lead to additional education. “We outline steps to get to that end goal,” she adds.
One client, Kizzier recalls, wanted to be a tattoo artist. Goodwill helped her to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License to get a job that would pay the money she needed to purchase the required equipment for tattooing. “It’s all very individualized based on skills, abilities, aptitudes and interests,” Kizzier adds, “all the while understanding that it doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t for any of us.”
In addition, “Real Employment Assistance for Developing You (READY)” services, offered in partnership with Heartland Workforce Solutions, provides individual career counseling with no eligibility requirements. “Anyone can call and come in to access these services for free,” Kizzier says. This program is completely funded by Goodwill. “We’ve provided so many programs over the years, but if you didn’t fit into one of those eligibility niches, then we couldn’t help. Now we can help anybody who calls. Our retail operations make programs like READY possible.”
Career specialists work with clients one-on-one to brush up their resume, develop an employment plan, and learn to apply for jobs online. “Workshops revolve around job-readiness topics such as attitude, work ethics, motivation, getting along with peers and being able to take direction and redirection,” Kizzier says. Basic computer skills classes are also offered regularly for people who aren’t computer savvy. “Goodwill representatives help clients prepare to answer questions in an interview about employment gaps or felony convictions,” Kizzier says. “We help them to present themselves in the most positive way possible.” Goodwill’s training programs also build current work experience back into a client’s resume, Kizzier adds. “You worked here, got paid, and now you have a reference!”
In cooperation with other community organizations, Goodwill provides career development and individualized support for young people either in school, out of school but unemployed or underemployed, or without high school diplomas. The Partnership for Youth Development and Youthbuild Omaha programs offer opportunities for people ages 14 to 24 to earn a GED while completing paid training experiences.
Also geared toward young people is Goodwill’s Work Experience program, which provides work experience and training for high school students in special education. “Participants go to their high school in the morning and then come to us in the afternoon,” Kizzier explains. Half of the time is spent in on-site training classrooms, while the other half of the time is on the job. They undergo six- to eight-week rotations in different jobs in the stores to learn a variety of skills.
“That’s another way our retail operations support our mission,” Kizzier adds. “Our entire organization works toward strengthening individuals’ work skill which in turn strengthens their families.”