Long-Term Unemployed Find Jobs Through Hope, Perseverance

By Bill Leonard Mar 6, 2014

CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Miranda Hairston has the kind of effervescent personality and positive attitude that are infectious, so it’s tough to imagine her ever being down and disgruntled. Still, she is the first to admit that being unemployed for more than two years sorely tried her patience and dimmed her sunny disposition.

Hairston is all smiles now as she talks about her new job as marketing director for K&P Consulting in Charlotte, which she started in January 2014. She said landing the job lifted a tremendous weight from her shoulders and ended a seemingly endless ordeal that far too many U.S. workers must contend with every day.

“I know that I am one of the lucky ones, and I am thankful for my good fortune,” she said.

Just seven months after relocating from Northern Virginia to be closer to her ailing mother, Hairston was laid off after a round of budget cuts eliminated dozens of jobs at the administrative offices of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system. Her reaction to the layoff seemed very much like the five stages of grief and loss.

“At first, I was in denial,” she recalled. “I kept saying to myself: ‘This just can’t be true. I’ve always worked and have never been unemployed, so this should’ve never happened to me.’ ”

Hairston told SHRM Online she was certain she would find a job quickly, but as several weeks passed with no job prospects in sight, she knew she had to network and make connections in a city that she barely knew.

Serving the Long-term Unemployed

Charlotte Works proved to be the support mechanism that Hairston desperately needed. The public/private-sector partnership provides education, job-search assistance and career counseling to the area’s unemployed who are seeking meaningful work. The group, which is funded by federal grants provided through the Workforce Investment Act, offers training and networking opportunities to help job seekers develop, align and connect their work skills with the needs of area employers.

Charlotte Works has been recognized as one of the best and most effective U.S. programs for finding jobs for people who possess or are willing to obtain the skills and experience that businesses need. On Jan. 31, Obama administration officials recognized Charlotte Works for its efforts during a White House event. The Society for Human Resource Management has worked closely with the White House on the project and helped to develop and publish a set of inclusive hiring policies and best practices.

“It remains to be seen if the White House’s initiative for the long-term unemployed will make a huge difference,” said Julie Paul, volunteer manager at Charlotte Works. “However, the recognition from the president is raising awareness about us and what we do here, and that’s really having a positive and noticeable impact.”

Paul experienced the plight of the long-term unemployed firsthand when she lost her job as a fundraiser at a Charlotte-area nonprofit and was out of work for 18 months before landing a full-time position at Charlotte Works.

“We hear all the time from unemployed people who come here looking for help and support: ‘You just don’t understand what I’m going through,’ ” Paul said. “And I tell them, ‘Yes we do understand, because most of us here have been in your same situation.’ ”

Participants in the Charlotte Works program can take advantage of a variety of volunteer opportunities that allow them to work at the organization’s office, which is located just west of downtown Charlotte in a former Coca-Cola bottling plant. The Art Deco building was renovated to add training and conference rooms and workspaces that provide a free wireless Internet connection to allow participants to search for jobs and work on their resumes.

One classroom is now filled with computers and high-tech equipment donated by Microsoft Corp.

“It was a generous gesture from Microsoft and really helped us to up the ante on our computer-training capabilities,” Paul noted.

The number of local businesses that partner with Charlotte Works changes constantly, but, according to Paul, “several hundred” have joined Charlotte Works’ effort to find jobs for the unemployed.

“This isn’t the unemployment office, and I think that’s the most common misconception about what Charlotte Works actually is and does,” said Paula Harvey, SPHR, GPHR, chief executive officer of K&P Consulting. “The program offers people a way to polish and refocus their job skills so that they have the training and skills that employers want and need.”

Harvey added: “The program offers smaller employers a way to connect and tap into a pool of talented and experienced workers that they really have never had access to before. I know it has worked for me.”

A frequent leader of training sessions at Charlotte Works, Harvey also teaches courses in HR management at Central Piedmont Community College (CPCC). She met Hairston during one of the training sessions and was immediately impressed by her positive attitude and work ethic.

“I could tell right away that Miranda was a hard worker and go-getter,” Harvey said. “I knew that I wanted to work with her and give her an opportunity if I could.”

After Hairston earned a certificate in HR management from CPCC, Harvey hired her, first on a contract basis and then as a full-time employee.

“Paula was willing to give me a chance to prove myself, and that’s really all someone needs to get back on their feet,” Hairston said.

Through the efforts of groups like Charlotte Works, employers are getting the message, and attitudes about offering opportunities to long-term unemployed workers are improving. There is still work to do, though, and HR professionals have a pivotal role to play in raising awareness about the skills and experience that jobless workers possess.

“Employers need to know that programs like Charlotte Works are out there and [can] connect them to experienced, skilled and highly motivated job candidates,” Harvey stressed. “It really should be the duty of HR professionals to make these connections and get their organizations involved in these programs. And it shouldn’t be a hard sell at all to your boss, because it’s the right thing to do.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

Related Resources

The Long-Term Unemployed: How to Make Sure You Are Not Overlooking Skilled Talent, SHRM Online, Staffing Management, January 2014

How to Effectively Market Yourself for a Job When You’ve Been Long-Term Unemployed, SHRM Online, Staffing Management, January 2014

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