Claris Stevens had never been fired in her 40 plus years in the workforce. However, as many in the hunt for a job know well—and as Stevens learned—there seems to always be a first time for everything.
While working for a telecommunications and customer service provider in West Virginia in 2014, a slip in margins for her goals landed Stevens in a difficult situation. Sitting in the conference room of the Northeast Kentucky Community Action Agency in Louisa, Ky., Stevens, a resident of Lawrence County, is clearly still rattled by the experience as she straightens her glasses and clears her throat.
“I was terminated in December 2014 due to not meeting my goals,” she recalls, quickly adding that it was only one goal that she didn’t meet, and only by a small margin.
After years of never really having to be on the hunt for employment, Stevens says she was thrown into a world where searching for a job now meant more than just walking into a local business to speak to the employer.
Calls made to local acquaintances about possible job openings led Stevens to Bonnie Conn, an expert career advisor with Northeast Kentucky CAA who also facilitates the local Job Club.
Northeast provides Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) career-advising services in Lawrence, Elliot, and Carter counties under contract with the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program (EKCEP). These services help people re-enter the workforce or upskill for new, better jobs and careers. In addition to assistance to dislocated or underemployed adult workers, the agency also provides workforce services to at-risk youth and area employers.
“Bonnie introduced me to Job Clubs, and she helped me with my résumé,” Stevens says. “She gave me different websites to go to on the Internet to look for job leads. It’s like she opened up a whole new world that I didn’t know existed out there to get help to get a job.”
A Job Club is a small group of jobseekers that meets to share leads and networking opportunities, and develop skills such as interviewing and résumé building. EKCEP and its Kentucky Career Center JobSight workforce network, in collaboration with Community Action Partnership and the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training, sponsor the program.
Conn says she remembers Stevens and her Job Club quite well, and communicating and being productive during the meetings was never an issue for Stevens. While she was learning how to use the Internet to locate employment opportunities, she was also bringing back to her Job Club meetings any tips and tricks she picked up along the way.
“If we had given her a job lead, when she went and applied for that job online it might take her to other links to other jobs that were comparable to that,” Conn remembers. “She would share with the other members how to go in there and get more job leads like that, so, instead of applying for one it will let you apply for two or three.”
Stevens says she regularly walked out of meetings with stacks of job leads.
“I got a lot out of Job Club, I think everyone that came did,” Stevens says. “It opened up a lot of doors for me.”
Stevens ultimately succeeded in finding work, Conn says, because she took Job Club seriously and realized it could work as a tool to help accomplish her goal of re-entering the workforce.
“She saw the benefits of it and the worth of it,” Conn adds. “The more they participate, the more comfortable they are, the more apt they are to come back every week and see success because they’re gaining something from it.”
That hard work and perseverance paid off, Stevens says, after an interview earlier this year for a new business near Ashland called Rural King landed her a part-time position in customer service.
“What worked so well with Job Club is you have a variety of people participating with a variety of skills, and when you come into Job Club you get to meet each one of these individuals,” Stevens adds. “A lot of people in this area don’t realize the benefits there are to coming by.”
And those benefits continued for Stevens, who in August accepted a full-time position as a receptionist at a local doctor’s office.
“I tell everyone, if you’re looking for a job and you need help getting a job—all of the resources are offered to you,” she says. “If you haven’t worked for years, you don’t realize what the employers are looking for today. Job Club gives you that information.”
EKCEP, a nonprofit workforce development agency headquartered in Hazard, Ky., serves 23 Appalachian coalfield counties. The agency provides an array of workforce development services and also administers the Hiring Our Miners Everyday (H.O.M.E.) program, which provides career services to laid-off miners and their spouses. Find out more at www.jobsight.org and www.facebook.com/ekcep.