While there’s general agreement that moving people from dependence upon public assistance to self-sufficiency is a good idea, finding the best way to actually do this can be quite challenging. However, leaders at Westhab, Inc.—a nonprofit provider of housing and social services for Westchester and Bronx homeless and low income families—are confident they have a better solution: A changed job-acquisition training program that gets to the core of the problem.
According to Joanne Dunn, Westhab’s director of employment, the key is the program’s focus on “soft skills.” These are the critical elements everyone needs to successfully navigate a job interview, and hold onto a position once they are hired.
Westhab’s clients often lack basic reading and/or math skills; won’t, or can’t, receive or follow instructions; or show up for work on time, Dunn notes. She adds, “if a job candidate lacks these abilities its very difficult for them to succeed in the workplace. We have found employees are not necessarily looking for the most skilled person. What they do want is someone who will learn what they need to know, follow instructions, and get along with their co-workers.”
To meet these needs, Dunn says, Westhab has pivoted from traditional classroom-style job training in entry-level fields that didn’t lead to living-wage jobs, to intense, “tough love”-style eight-week-long immersion sessions. This adaptation is an offspring of the STRIVE employment model that features attitudinal and job- readiness training. Westhab has been affiliated with the STRIVE International organization for the past five years.
Michael Jenkins leads a job training class.
Organizations that have hired Westhab program graduates include Yonkers-based POP Displays USA, manufacturers of retail point-of-sale units; Sodexco, which staffs hospital food service and other support positions; and Yonkers-based American Christmas. Positions filled by Westhab grads include warehousing, custodial, and forklift operators, driving jobs (if they have a commercial driving license), and childcare.
Sierra Hurt, who graduated form Weshthab’s program in October, is now an assistant at the Baby Cubs Daycare Center in Mount Vernon. She says the course helped her “become more comfortable when speaking to a job interviewer, and generally made me feel more confident. I’m sure that what I learned is helping me now and will into the future. The Westhab experience put me in on the right path and will definitely open more doors.”
According to Dunn, half of those participating in the new Westhab program graduate. And, of those, some 80 percent have found jobs. And across the entire roster of Westhab job programs, 500 receive jobs each year. That means “500 people are getting off public assistance, becoming active participants in the economy, and role models for their kids. This is how you break the cycle of poverty,” adds Westhab’s President & CEO, Richard Nightingale.