|August Update from TE.
In March, we were on target to meet our annual goals. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we quickly refocused activities to include more case management because most of our current and past participants needed connections to basic resources because they were losing employment or experiencing significant reduction in hours; or dealing with the additional stressors of being an essential worker.
We heard this first hand because we had to slow down to listen. Alumni and students were struggling - case managers and career coaches had to meet them where they were in order to continue to walk beside them on their career pathway providing support and encouragement. Today and in the weeks to come, despite hardship, lack of resources, and ongoing uncertainty, the need for an employment partner is greater than ever. So whether it be online, in person, short-term with basic resources to face job or wage loss, or longer-term striving towards a credential and a career, the Towards Employment staff gives Clevelanders the tools and connections to find jobs and careers –even in the midst of a pandemic.
At the onset of the pandemic, we created a virtual office for 52 employees in less than 2 weeks. We successfully transitioned all staff to work from home, benefiting from prior strategic direction to begin to provide more opportunities to telecommute via Microsoft Teams and external VPN access. With staff supports in place, we were able to respond to additional community need by increasing career coaching caseloads to include program graduates recently unemployed; building out online and virtual job readiness modules that reflect and supplement our sector-focused evidence based career pathway approach to serve low-income Clevelanders adversely impacted; and providing evolving career support (which also include supportive resources like bus passes, work attire, connections to child care, newly available COVID resources etc.) for workers facing newly challenging employment circumstances.
Immediate and ongoing feedback from TE career coaches and case managers cause us to be particularly concerned about lack of access to computers and broadband, resources for phone and data plans, and the skills to make best available use of these tools. Surveys of our participants show significant digital capacity gaps. We now include digital access and on-line learning capability into individualized career plans, and include the purchase of chrome books as a supportive service to the extent resources and supplies allow. We recognize we must include digital usage and literacy in any employment strategy.
As we think about the upcoming months and the future of the work we do, it is apparent that virtual teaching, coaching and connecting to careers/jobs has to be part of our ongoing workplace portfolio and will help us be present and engaged in more places and at more times that are convenient for fellow Clevelanders. Our team is thinking deeply about strategies that let us bring more career building tools to more people at the right time and place. Partner with us – your support is an investment in the talent of your Cleveland neighbors – and more than ever it is truly needed.