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Genesis Jobs helps entry-level workers find jobs and keep them, director says

THE BALTIMORE SUN

When college-educated executives with years of experience look for a job, they often have the help of a high-level search firm. In contrast, those who have had difficulty getting and keeping employment often get no assistance in looking for work, even though they would seem to need help most.

Enter Genesis Jobs, a charitable organization that doesn't handle charity cases, according to its executive director, Emily Thayer. Although this church-aligned group charges no fees, she says, it is a full-service, head-hunter organization for people looking for entry-level non-professional jobs.

At Genesis Jobs, about 50 volunteers coach the clients on punctuality and commitment, presentation and interviews. Then job-seekers are referred to area employers.

Ms. Thayer, who has led the program since its inception over six years ago, has been involved in youth summer jobs programs and Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development.

QUESTION: How do you get your clients?

ANSWER: Lately, it's been mainly people hearing about us from someone else who has been helped. I think the reason we have such a good reputation is because not only do we help people find jobs, but our real strength is in doing something I don't think anyone else in the country does. We help people keep their jobs.

After someone finds a job -- either one we send them to or !B through their own network that we insist they develop -- we have a team of follow-up volunteers who make weekly phone calls, staying in touch for a year.

Q: How many people have you helped?

A: We now count about 800 people who have gotten jobs directly through Genesis Jobs, though many more have gotten indirect help that's led to employment. Our goal is to have someone keep a job with the same company for a year and about 45 percent have done that.

Q: What about the 55 percent that haven't? Is that heartbreaking for someone in your position?

l A: There are a lot of reasons people leave their jobs, not all of them bad. They get another job with another company. They move away. But we also find that some of our people have trouble shifting gears because they are under a lot of pressure to be available to people in their community.

Unemployed people become the caretakers. If I am not employed, I am on everybody's list -- to take care of the kids, to go to the market, to be there when the gas man comes, to pick up the kids from school. That's a job, it just doesn't bring in any income. The pressure is very much on me to still be there. And if I find a job, I will be looking for someone to do those things for me.

The heartbreak is that Genesis Jobs can't be there in every way for everybody. But that's tempered by the fact that the reason we are still here doing as well as we are is because we have stuck to the knitting.

If we got involved in people's transportation problems, or day care, or substance abuse, or other interpersonal things, we would absolutely disrupt what we do very well and what no one else is doing. There are other resources to deal with other problems.

So what we tell people is that they need a certain amount of stability in their lives to look for a job. When you're ready, come back.

Q: What do you find are the biggest barriers to your clients finding and keeping work?

A: Child care is a big one. Men and women are always calling in and saying they can't come to work because they have to take care of the children, maybe because their day-care provider found a job. The nice part is the tremendous concern these people have for their children.

Transportation is an obvious one. Most of our people depend on public transportation. When jobs open up outside of the inner city, the transportation that's available might not be too frequent. You miss the one afternoon bus, you spend the night in Hunt Valley.

Q: Are there any changes in governmental policies you would recommend?

A: We could do a better job of coupling training with job development. We have seen hundreds of people who have taken lots and lots of courses, but there is no way to put those skills to work. Often the skills are not pertinent to this area. People don't come here unskilled, they come here skilled in something other than what's available.

Health care is another area. I think we are the only country in the world that ties health care to employment. If there was another way to do that, it would make an incredible difference in people's ability to take certain jobs, to do well in them and keep them.

But for the most part, you can't legislate the kinds of things that put people in the position to get jobs and keep them, the benevolence and compassion you find in many of the employers in the Genesis Jobs network.

Q: What do your clients get when they come to Genesis Jobs?

A: Everyone who walks in the door is treated with tremendous respect. They are warmly greeted by some of our volunteers. They are signed up for an orientation session and then given an appointment for a weekly meeting with one of our job counselors. Working with them, they map out a job search program and they have to stick to that.

They must be on time for everything. Five minutes early is fine, one minute late is not. It's only after three weeks of successfully following their program that we speak on their behalf to an employer.

We think the respect we show our clients and that we've developed with our employers is contagious. We want this to be a win-win situation all around, to make everybody see how a good employee can make an employer look good and vice versa.

When we send someone out on an interview, we know a job is there. We've told them everything we know about the place, the employer, the culture, so there should be no surprises. That's a key to job retention.

For instance, we try to make the employees realize that in this economy, job security is a problem for everybody. We want them to understand the pressures their supervisor is under, the boss is under, the company owner is under, and that those insecurities are going to filter down. That way, instead of just complaining, maybe getting bitter and quitting, they can comprehend what's going on and find a way to accommodate to that reality.

And because of what the employer knows about us, when the applicant walks in the door from Genesis Jobs, there's a feeling that I already know this person, and I give them a little more respect, not any more than they are due, but more than we are conditioned to give.

Q: Do you think there is such a thing as the chronically unemployed?

A: Being unemployed is not as hard as looking for a job because that's where you get rejected. So being chronically unemployed may mean I've gotten very careful of what I've got in the way of reserves, knowing that if I go out one more time and hear one more no, I'm not sure I can take it. So, it might just be the dejection that comes from constant rejection.

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