The vocational training services at Atlanta Mission aren’t just about finding employment. Their focus is helping the whole person find a path, not just the wage-earning part. By being able to find work that inspires as well as sustains, our clients can experience transformation in how they care for themselves and their families. Here’s a look at why it works so well.
Finding the right teacher
Bill had a strong background in education—he’d been a teacher, a school principal and an educational consultant. But one day his consulting job dried up and he found himself unemployed. With time on his hands until he found a new job, Bill turned to helping those experiencing homelessness. He and his wife would go to exits along the interstate in the poorer sections of Atlanta and distribute clothing and food to those in need. They’d also conduct Sunday worship services for them.
But he still needed a job, and when he heard that Atlanta Mission was looking for people to help with their job attainment program, he knew he was being guided to the right thing. Bill could apply his skills in education to help others, using what he’d learned throughout his own recent job search. He knew he’d found the perfect fit.
Building the program
Once he landed the position, Bill got straight to work. Atlanta Mission was developing a new vocational training model that could create a unique job search strategy tailored to each client. Bill researched the top 10 skills job seekers needed—almost all of them were soft skills like communication and leadership—and started developing coursework for clients to really prepare them for the working world.
To help clients get job-ready immediately, the training program had them work on in-house tasks as a professional would. Participants were given assignments and issued real checklists that industry professionals would use. Those doing housekeeping work would follow hotel procedures, for instance, while tasks involving food preparation and washing clothes would use commercial-grade kitchen and laundry task lists. At the end of the week, each client was given a work evaluation rating and a performance improvement plan.
It was an innovative approach to vocational training. While helping get important work done at Atlanta Mission and learning solid work habits, clients were also doing something else: building a resume of successful accomplishment. Their experience would serve as a reference for potential employers who would call Bill and ask for an assessment when interviewing a client for a job.
Not just a job
Part of Atlanta Mission’s new approach to vocational services also involved developing an enrichment program, which encouraged clients to explore their options based on their backgrounds and personal interests. Bill says, “They had to get out of the mindset that all they needed was a job. The tendency was to just take the first thing that came along.”
The problem with that was that quite often, that first job offer didn’t pay a living wage, was something that didn’t really resonate with the client, or was only a temporary assignment without job security. None of these are sustainable long-term, he explains.
The vocational services strategy addressed that self-sabotaging thinking. The program was designed to do more than just place people in jobs—it was about helping them find a vocation with the help of a team, plus training for personal growth and job skills.
One client didn’t listen to the advice given to be patient and faithful—to just wait for the right thing. Instead, he took the first job that came along, which was a minimum wage position. After he realized that he was going nowhere, he admitted his mistake and asked for help. He ended up with a position in a major hotel chain, where he has advanced over the course of two years.
Laying the groundwork
Bill says that before seeking their vocation, “people have to address their root issues. They may feel like they’re ready, but they may not be. They also need to have realistic goals that match with their skills and ambitions.”
Another part of the training involves participants discarding unhealthy thought patterns and being willing to develop their independence. They must also learn good work habits, among them punctuality. The program fosters that with a morning training meeting set for 7:30—participants are expected to be there and ready to go at 7:15.
Atlanta Mission also partners with Jobs for Life, a Christian organization that addresses unemployment for the chronically underserved. A “champion” is assigned as a mentor to offer encouragement throughout the process, which seeks to restore dignity to those out of work or underemployed, a situation that leads to a downward spiral of hopelessness.
Success breeds success
The new vocational services offered at Atlanta Mission are more holistic and individualized than ever before. The skills training and job placement processes now work together, and each client is part of a team dedicated to his or her success, including a counselor to deal with life issues; a social worker who can help obtain services that Atlanta Mission doesn’t offer; an advocate, who works one-on-one with clients; and a training manager, who helps with job and soft skill education.
The results speak for themselves. One client who went to work in a housekeeping role ended up as a sous chef in a major hotel. Another took a dead-end dishwashing job, switched to a more vocational-focused approach and now manages a store for a major mobile phone retailer.
Bill couldn’t be more pleased to see clients’ careers taking off, and he reflects about his own vocation. “I feel it’s a privilege to be at Atlanta Mission,” he says. “I’ve been in ministry all my life and this is a continuation of that. It’s a calling, not a job.”