It takes a network: PVCC program connects people with jobs—and the resources to help them succeed

Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

This area’s affordable housing crisis is often in the news, but what about the other side of the issue–a sustainable income? Businesses can do their part by hiring local residents, who with some assistance or training could step up to a better-paying job. The challenge is, how to find those people, match them with the right jobs, and get them the training they need.

That’s the mission of Network2Work@PVCC– the employment version of ‘it takes a village.’

Here’s how it works: Employers who have jobs paying a minimum of $25,000 ($12.50/ hour) that don’t require a college degree list their positions in the Network2Work database in one of four categories: health care, hospitality/services, transportation/logistics, and construction/skilled trades.

N2W then reaches out to its “connectors,” a web of more than 250 individuals working in local advocacy groups, fraternal organizations, churches, veterans’ programs, and so on–the kind of plugged-in people who “know everyone” in their community, and can help identify and refer potential candidates. Once the connectors identify potential candidates, N2W helps these job seekers figure out what stands between them and that particular position. Affordable transportation? Reliable child care? A driver’s license? Training? Then the program’s staff taps into its network of about 50 nonprofits and human services agencies whose assistance can help them meet those needs.

Every job seeker gets coaching and a final screening from volunteer human resources professionals to make sure they are application-ready. There’s no hiring guarantee—but when program graduates submit an application, N2W director Frank Squillace sends the employer an email flagging this candidate as someone who has already worked hard to qualify and succeed.

The beauty of the program is that it taps what’s already out there. Businesses have positions to fill–but, faced with legal restrictions and online hiring processes, employers appreciate knowing that N2W candidates have already been vetted. Government and nonprofit programs can help people overcome barriers to work, but “people need guidance through the system,” Squillace says. N2W’s staff and volunteers provide the ongoing support and encouragement that can make success possible. “And, he notes, “it’s all funded by philanthropists, grants, and local donors.”

What started as a pilot program in fall 2017 is already proving its worth. N2W began with four employers and now has 90, representing 100 positions (a position could represent several jobs, as in server or maintenance worker) and about $8.6 million in wages, according to Squillace. Businesses that have hired qualified employees through N2W range from Walmart to Farmington Country Club, and also include Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital, Linden House, UVA Medical Center, Design Electric, and L.A. Lacy.

Piedmont Housing Alliance, a nonprofit providing housing, counseling, community development, and management services to low-income communities in this area, has hired maintenance and administrative staff through the program. “Our partnership with Network2Work helps us address the affordable housing shortage here,” says Deputy Director Karen Klick, noting that its housing counselors also serve among N2W’s connectors.

More than 90 percent of N2W’s graduates have found jobs, two-thirds of which pay more than $25,000 a year; 39 percent of graduates are single mothers. And N2W staff follow up and support graduates for a year after hiring.

N2W is the brainchild of Ridge Schuyler– author of the Orange Dot Project report on poverty in the city, founder of the Charlottesville Works initiative, and now dean of Piedmont Virginia Community College’s Division of Community Self-Sufficiency Programs, of which N2W is one. Its innovative approach has already attracted attention outside our area; Squillace says state officials have expressed interest in taking the N2W model to other community colleges around Virginia.

It’s an exciting possibility, says Squillace: “We’re changing the face of poverty.”

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