Local group works to lower Black unemployment rate

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Employment in today’s economy is sparse and hard to come by and even harder for African-Americans. Pennsylvania has an unemployment rate of 14.7 percent for African-Americans, compared to 6.9 percent for their White counterparts. While it’s hard to find a job, Pennsylvania Women Work, a non-profit organization, works to assist people find employment.

They assist single parents, both men and women; displaced homemakers; individuals in transition; and any unemployed or underemployed individual in obtaining employment through several of their programs which specialize in job placement and training, raising self-esteem and learning how to be self-sufficient.

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IT PAYS TO STUDY —Individuals completing career training. (Photo Courtesy Pittsburgh Family Connection)

“Everyone here has a passion to help our clients. We sit down with them…give them one-on-one attention and most of us are graduates of the program,” said Debra Killmeyer, interim executive director of PAWW. “We have a good retention and placement rate.”

In Pennsylvania alone, Killmeyer said PAWW, which was founded in 1994, services approximately 3,000 individuals within their 16 locations. In Pittsburgh, approximately more than 50 percent of the clients they service are African-American. In the city locations, on average, clients are in their 20s and 30s, but in their suburban locations, the average age range is 40 to 50.

One of the organization’s most popular programs is the New Choices program which has been in effect since 2000 and is a 10-week career development program that assists attendees with their resume, conducts mock interviews, works on self-esteem, conducts interest inventories to see what careers clients would most be interested in and looks into one’s whole background to see additional skills that may be useful for a client’s placement.

“We have a strong network within our Corporate Advisory Committee, which are people in human resources that help with placements and finding jobs,” she said

With the instability of the economy, Killmeyer said the program is getting a lot of individuals who had a job and were laid off. “We are seeing more people who have been in the workforce for 10 to15 years, but got laid off and are looking to freshen up their skills or gain new ones to enter a new market,” she said.

PAWW also caters to families through their Pittsburgh Family Connection program, which is a collaboration between PAWW and the Workforce Development Global Alliance, and is geared toward families; young adults between the age of 16 and 25; and high school graduates and non-graduates. Like the New Choices program, there is career development, but also computer training, guest presentations from executives and individuals in various professions and more. The program also offers a communication and conflict resolution component.

“We were hoping to get family units where both parents and (older) children were coming, but haven’t. We found either parents were coming and the (older) children did not want to or the (older) children were coming and the parents had no interest in attending,” Killmeyer said. “And we did not want to turn anyone away.”

For individuals between the ages of 16-25, the program helps them get their GED. “We get them through the process, get them trained and employed,” she said.

Paul Scott, training consultant for the Pittsburgh Family Connection program, which began in the North Side community and has since expanded, said, “The program has grown. We have had to put a limit on the number of people. We are constantly getting calls from people looking to join the program. We give an assessment to see what their skills are and then see what partners (companies) has jobs for them based on their skills. We are finding that a lot of our clients need to get their GED.”

Scott explained that some of the clients aren’t able to get a job because they have no GED or diploma or because they have an illegal past. So they have to change their client’s mindset to say that the mistakes they made were in the past and then the organization finds partners that have placements for them.

“We have more of an adult crowd but have targeted younger (individuals) to help guide them in the right direction career wise. Especially with the high drop-out rate within the Pittsburgh Public School system,” Scott said.

The programs also cater to individuals who have graduated high school and are transitioning to go to college.

Scott said the programs are more focused in the Downtown and surrounding areas because going further out brings about transportation issues.

Along with the New Choices program and the Pittsburgh Family Connections program, PAWW also helps women get into the trade field, which are predominantly male careers. Killmeyer said it is hard and men do not make it easy, so a woman has to give 300 percent to get into the trade. But PAWW helps with testing and provides support both financially and mentally.

Due to funding and the ending of a grant, PAWW ended its Mentoring Online and Resources for Employment program, which allowed clients to send career questions to the program and then they were forwarded to individuals in specific careers and answered. For instance, clients were able to ask individuals in their interested field, what it takes to enter that specific field.

Killmeyer said she is unsure whether the program will be brought back, because she does not know if they will get funding again.

Some PAWW programs are free, but there are also scholarships available for certain ones that aren’t.

While the name says women, the program caters to all who need help with employment because sometimes it just takes asking for a little help.

(For more information on the programs, please contact 412-281-9240 or 1-866-PAWOMEN.)

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