Program Identifies and Trains Low-Wage Workers for Skilled Jobs

Initiative builds talent pipeline for Virginia community

By Kathy Gurchiek Mar 24, 2017

Two dollars and 50 cents stood in the way of a Charlottesville, Va., woman getting the job training she needed to help lift her out of poverty. That's how much it cost to buy a certified copy of her criminal record before she could be admitted to a work training program, but her wallet was empty.

With a call to Ridge Schuyler, she soon had the money and the paperwork.

"There are a lot of people being left behind in our economy who just need the barest amount of assistance," said Schuyler, director of the Charlottesville (Va.) Works Initiative. It matches low-wage workers to jobs, provides support services and steers participants toward necessary training.

It's a program the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce created in partnership with Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC), where Schuyler serves as dean of the college's community self-sufficiency programs. PVCC provides leadership and management for the initiative, and members of the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) Charlottesville chapter volunteer their expertise.

There are 5,612 families whose members make up 17 percent of Charlottesville's and Albemarle County's population that do not earn enough to pay for basics such as food, shelter, clothing and utilities, according to data from the Greater Charlottesville Area Development Corp. Those basics don't include the associated costs of working, such as child care and transportation that many people need to keep a job. In Charlottesville, the annual cost for day care is between $9,000 and $12,000, for example.

"I have employers who are desperate to find quality skilled workers," Schuyler said, pointing to a local hospital that could not fill 211 openings for certified nursing assistants. "There are folks living in the shadow of that hospital who would love to fill those jobs."

The initiative, he said, also helps create jobs by serving as a bridge between large institutions, such as universities and hospitals that buy goods and services, and local businesses that can create jobs by supplying some of those goods and services.

Charlottesville Works provides the training the employer requires for entry-level jobs, such as for an HVAC technician, or secures the funding for training that typically lasts eight to 12 weeks.

It also helps job seekers qualify for training funds that are available from a variety of sources, such as the federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education & Training Program, and the Virginia-operated Workforce Credentials Grant. If no funding is available, Charlottesville Works pays for the training, Schuyler told SHRM Online in an e-mail.

Since the pilot program launched two years ago, 136 people have participated in the program. Eighty-six percent of those who completed the training have found jobs; 41 percent of all participants were single mothers.

How It Works

Employers complete a Web-based ticket for a job they want to fill, along with information about the skills and experience required, the salary, hours and benefits. These are jobs that pay $25,000 or higher and don't require a college degree. Combined with the earned income tax credit, that's enough for a single mother and two children to meet their basic needs, according to Schuyler.

A peer network—using a social networking approach to fill jobs—is a key piece of the program.

"Every community has these well-connected people that folks turn to for advice, and those are the people you want to identify and make part of your peer network," Schuyler said. "It's the secretary in the church, it's the school nurse," the union steward, the person who attends community meetings.

While it would be ideal to find people who are perfectly qualified, "what we're finding is people don't have the skills but they can acquire them if they have the aptitude," he said.

"We work with people who have been left behind in the economy [who are] working in low-paying jobs but have the potential to be part of our skilled workforce. But somebody needs to reach out and grab them by the lapels and say 'there's something more for you. Are you interested in pursuing it?' That's what the peer network does," he explained.

Community Partners

The Works Initiative uses a Web-based assessment tool developed with the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education to identify and provide the nonmonetary support people need to secure and keep a job.

"One of the hallmarks of our approach is to leverage the ongoing work of existing community partners," Schuyler explained. "For example, we connect job seekers who need child care with our local United Way, which has a robust child care scholarship program."

The program operates an emergency fund that helps job seekers pay for car repairs so they can make it to training and to work, and it's launching a loaner fleet with cars donated by the local police department. Program participants who don't have cars can use the loaner vehicles to get to training and to the workplace for the first two months of work. At that point they buy their own car and return the loaner. The initiative pays for maintenance and insurance with money from donors.

Schuyler even has personally helped program participants overcome obstacles to their success. Nyadria Henderson, for example, recalled in weekly news publication Charlottesville Tomorrow how Schuyler has given her rides to her job at a nursing home when she didn't have transportation.

After completing training, a participant goes through an exit interview with a SHRM chapter volunteer.

It is in chapter members' interests to make sure program participants are employer-ready, said Jane M. Davis, SHRM-SCP, HR manager at the University of Virginia School of Medicine and president-elect of SHRM's Charlottesville chapter. Many of the chapter members work at organizations that can benefit from the talent pipeline the initiative is building, she said.

Schuyler noted the valuable role SHRM volunteers will provide.  

"Our whole [initiative] is built on the idea that we are creating quality [job] candidates," and not merely helping someone who is in dire financial straits. "SHRM can help us provide quality control," he said. "The skills that HR people have are very valuable for folks who are trying to find quality work ... to say 'yes, you're ready' or 'no, you're not.' "

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter. 


Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


The SHRM Member Discounts program provides member-only access to discounts on products and services you can apply to your life and career, and share with your company.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect