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Job Search 2.0

A hard-working student at Kennedy-King College in Englewood, Gabrielle Thompkins has turned to the Smart Communities program in a lot of ways. Help finding a job is just the most recent example.

Thompkins is one of thousands of residents in the five Smart Communities who’ve taken computer training courses through the program. To help with school, she’s taken Everyday Digital classes at the FamilyNet Center in Englewood on Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint and how to navigate online. Her courses made her eligible to earn a free Netbook computer, which she’s used for school to write papers, create spreadsheets and build a slideshow report on Crone’s Disease.

Gabrielle Thompkins

Thanks to a collaboration between Englewood’s FamilyNet Center and its Center for Working Families (CWF), Thompkins also has been able to find a part-time job at an event-marketing firm to earn money while she’s in school. “I used the computer lab to look at help-wanted ads, and they also gave me online job leads,” she says. “It really helped me out.”

Thompkins says that she found out about the FamilyNet Center through Clarence Hogan, the center’s manager, when she was a client at the Center for Working Families, a program that links job placement and career improvement with financial education and maximizing public benefits. The computer center and CWF share space on the Kennedy-King campus, but they don’t always work in concert. Hogan and his colleagues are working to bridge that divide.

“We’re working to bring technology into the Center for Working Families in a deliberate, tangible way. We want to empower individuals.” Hogan says. “Some people think this is just an employment center. Some people think it’s just a technology center. But in our orientation for either program, I talk about what’s on the other side of that wall, and how it can help them get where the want to go.”

Like Thompkins, Nigel Williams found a job with help from both the Center for Working Families and the FamilyNet Center. Born in Jamaica, Williams moved to the U.S. a few years ago when he married a woman from Chicago. Without a high school degree, he started classes at Kennedy-King to earn his GED, the first step to taking a course to become a security guard.

Unlike Thompkins, though, Williams started at the computer center side. “I didn’t know anything about technology,” he says with a laugh. “So I signed up to get help for my classes for the GED.”

Nigel Williams

Hogan made his pitch to Williams for how useful he would find CWF services too. Step-by-step, the two programs gave him a hand in finding a job. He used his new-found computer skills, the FamilyNet Center’s computers and broadband connection, and advice from Hogan and other center staff to find online job opportunities. He created a resume and emailed it to prospective employers from the center. And he prepared for interviews at CWF job-readiness classes.

Today, Williams is employed part-time as a chef at a local restaurant while he’s working toward his goal of a career in private security. “You can’t just drop off an application at local stores and expect to find a job, like you would in Jamaica,” he says. “I had to learn some new things and ask for help to find this job. I wouldn’t say what I received was good—I’d say it was excellent!”

Located on a college campus, the Englewood program has been an excellent site to offer help that links technology, education and employment. “It’s the 21st century. Can you really look for a job without technology? We have to have the tools to produce technology-astute people,” Hogan says.

LISC Chicago, which provides support for both the Smart Communities program and the Centers for Working Families, has found that clients who participated in both the Everyday Digital tech courses and received employment services through the CWF had a job placement rate that was just about 50 percent higher than for those who took the employment services alone.

“Offering a technology component to the Centers for Working Families clients makes all the sense in the world,” says Ricki Lowitz, the director of economic opportunities for LISC Chicago. “That’s something that we’re doing more and more, with a plan to offer at least some tech courses at all the CWFs in 2013.

“The whole idea for Smart Communities was to leverage technology in a way that would have a real, tangible effect on people’s lives,” she says. “When it comes to finding a job, we’ve definitely found that effect.”

Posted in Smart Communities News

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