At the start of the economic downturn a few years ago, a small group of local human resources and career development professionals came together to discuss starting an outreach program to help the unemployed. The overall consensus was that we should attempt to reach out via our churches. The loss of one’s livelihood can bring about a lessening of one’s faith. That small group formed the Interfaith Job Transition Ministry (IJTM), which is now a large network of professionals. IJTM has partnerships with groups and organizations such as financial community education providers and the public library. A volunteer developed a website at www.interfaithjobnetwork.org. [Note: the website is currently down due to a lightning strike; please check back soon.] The website has schedules of programs, job listings, links to helpful information, and news stories about job creation. Others can use the ideas and examples here to create similar programs in their community.
Career Development and Human Resources Volunteers
IJTM started out with about eight to ten volunteers, meeting monthly. The volunteers were trained professionals and many personally knew someone who had been downsized. They all had an overwhelming desire to act and help their community The first steps were to determine the curriculum, set up a website, find instructors, and determine meeting times and locations in local churches. The group now has about forty volunteers who meet regularly to continue the program and move it forward. Sessions were led by several instructors to allow for individual attention, breaks and different points of view.
Classes were held in central locations on the city bus lines. We did not exclude anyone who wanted to participate, so although the sessions were faith-based and held in churches, they were non-denominational and the public was invited. A typical session brought in between 20 and 30 participants.
Marketing/Promotion and Partnerships
Promotion was done through church bulletins and websites, the public library, and via religious publications. Some of the religious institutions provided the copies needed for the programs. The website listed all of the sessions throughout the city at every church and also included job postings, job search articles, and contact lists. We had a partnership with the public library; they were conducting similar workshops to teach people how to use computers to create resumes and providing training on using the Internet for a job search. We had library representatives speak at our sessions to promote the library programs, and in return, the library helped us promote our sessions.
While covering the basics of job search, we also stressed to our participants that they were not let go from employment because the employer was cruel. It was happening everywhere, to nearly everyone, and was just part of the “new economy.” The volunteers agreed that the classes should include a session on the psychological and faith issues that arise in times of crisis. The participants learned to expect to feel all of the emotions of the stages of grief at some point after job loss: shock and denial, fear and anxiety, anger, bargaining with God, depression, and acceptance. Finding a job is a full-time job, and if depression and the absence of routine are allowed to linger, the more difficult it will be to locate employment. They were encouraged to use each other and the instructors as support during their searches.
Session Topics Included:
filing for unemployment
COBRA and HIPAA
conducting a job search
social media sites
writing an effective resume
grammar and spelling
job correspondence (cover letters and thank-you letters)
conducting employer research
business and mealtime etiquette
proper interview and workplace attire
commonly asked interview questions
effective and applicable interview answers
appropriate workplace behaviors
Many participants said that the classes helped them secure new employment and gave them the courage to move forward. Some shared that just having somewhere to go and meet with others in the same situation was very comforting.
Many churches are still holding the sessions around the community, as evidenced by the long list of upcoming events outlined on the IJTM website. We are preparing to record webinars on each topic in shorter sessions; rather than five three-hour classes, the 30-45 minute webinar programs will be posted on the IJTM site for those who have computer access and cannot attend classes. Although the economy is in better condition now than a few years ago, there are still members of our community who need job search assistance. Therefore, IJTM will continue its work until the need is over.
Shelly Trent, SPHR, is a Field Services Director in the Southeast Region for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) where she has worked since 2000. Shelly’s background includes human resources, college career services, and business and industry training. Shelly is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources and obtained her master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis in HR. She completed Ph.D. coursework at the University of Louisville in human resources development and career counseling. She can be reached at Shelly.Trent@shrm.org