More Than Ever, Local Agencies Offer Solutions: Cleveland Works

by Pat Cichowicz

Hey, Washington! You wanna get people off welfare? Catch this!

First of all, think - why can’t people on Welfare get a job? A person who has to use welfare as a means of support can’t afford good clothes for working in; is probably in poor health; may have legal problems; probably has children to take care of; and does not have basic job skills.

These are no small obstacles to overcome but Cleveland Works takes on all of them. Founded in 1986 under the direction of David Roth, Cleveland Works has implemented an all inclusive, very ambitious program to deal with all the aspects that would keep a person from being gainfully employed. Located in downtown Cleveland in the Caxton Building at 812 Huron, Cleveland works provides candidates with 400 hours of classroom instruction and job retention skills. While enrolled in the program, personal aspects of a candidate’s life are dealt with as well.

For the children of candidates there is a child care center that features head-start training 260 days a year for 10 hours a day. Child centered education extends to the whole family. There are parenting courses offered to candidates on child development issues. Topics relating to working parents are covered. One course centers around the ways that family life management may affect job performance.

Cleveland Works has a wellness program that is linked to the Metro Health Downtown Center. It provides physical examinations, drug tests, and primary and preventative care for all sorts of illnesses. In its goal to encourage good health, the medical staff also offers workshops and classes regarding health and nutrition.

Cleveland Works did not originally plan to offer legal services. However, it became evident that one of the major obstacles to employment for candidates was related to severe legal problems. So in 1989 a legal department was started. It averages 4 new cases a day or almost 1000 cases a year. These cases deal with a variety of problems. Spousal abuse, child support enforcement, landlord disputes, and personal brushes with the law are some of the most common cases that are handled. There are two full-time attorneys and three part-time lawyers. Cleveland Works also offers courses to help students understand aspects of the law that may affect their lives.

All these programs are a support system for the actual job training part of Cleveland Works. When a person comes to Cleveland Works for the first time, he/she is interviewed to find out if it will fit their needs. Once accepted, the candidate spends mornings in an extensive 4-week job readiness workshop. Roberta Shears the Executive Assistant, calls it a kind of “Boot Camp.” She says, “All candidates are required to treat this training as they would a real job. In other words, they have to dress as if they were going to work and most importantly, be on time.” The workshop gives students training in how to market themselves. They fill out applications and practice job interviewing. They even learn how to budget money and time. Education in the afternoon sessions includes academic skills such as Business Math and English as well as technical office skills like typing reports, proofreading and editing. Role-playing is used to practice telephone etiquette and proper workplace communication.

Do prospective job candidates have to have a diploma? Patti Campbell, the head of the Marketing Department says, “ We try to instill in our candidates the reality of the workplace. And let’s face it, all employers want a diploma so we offer GED classes.”

Finally, after extensive training, the candidate is ready. So now what happens? There are two recruiters who actively seek out jobs from 600 area employers. They look specifically for jobs above $6.00/hour with benefits. The average starting salary for candidates is around $7.00/hour.

The candidate receives assistance in producing a resume and practices his or her interview techniques. Patti Campbell stresses, “Employers want good skills, but also good spelling! No slang. Being on time! Dressing appropriately! These are the realities of the workplace.”

The candidate is then invited to choose beautiful dry cleaned clothes with matching shoes and handbags. Jewelry, nylons, and toiletries like deodorant and toothpaste and lotion are provided. All of these are donated by the Ketura Group, a professional women’s division of the Greater Cleveland Chapter of Hadassah. They call this program “ Suited for Success.”

After the candidate is hired, he/she is not left alone. For a period of one year, there is a liaison that settles any problems between the employer and employee. Employers like this service and also the fact that the recruiting service saves them time. Cleveland Works is known for its honesty in the job placement field. All references are checked before the candidate comes to a job.

When asked why she does not use her skills as a “head hunter” for big business, Ms. Campbell openly said, “ It’s the satisfaction I get when I know I’ve helped someone. Some students come back and tell us of their successes - some have even bought their first house.”

Cleveland Works has helped hundreds of people secure jobs resulting in a total of 7,500 individuals being dropped from the welfare roles. So why doesn’t everyone who enters the program finish? The answer may be fairly complex. The average student is a 30-year-old woman on welfare with 2 children. When a Cleveland Works dropout who fits that description was asked why she left the program she said that her life was in such turmoil that she did not have the courage to go out on her own. “ I had a great amount of fear. I didn’t think I could make it,” she said. Her life has since settled down and she is working at Dillard’s Department store. Was her education at Cleveland Works lost? “ I used a lot of what I learned about interviewing and such to get my job,” she said.

So one of the things Cleveland Works is fighting is the candidate’s fear of change. Another may be related to an article written in the March issues of the Free Times by Mark Naymik. It alleged that funding cuts had hampered Cleveland Works which is primarily funded by the Cuyahoga County Department of Employment Services and private donations.

Are these allegations true? Possibly. But when cuts came in the fall of 1994, the staff worked for free until a donation of $100,000 was found. It would be a difficult task to find any business in this current economic climate that does not have some financial problems. Should the Cleveland Works management policies be reviewed? Probably. Should teachers and curriculum be reviewed? Constantly. But again, all effective schools revamp constantly to meet the needs of the students. Is the Cleveland Works program structure a good one? Absolutely. Whenever a program strives to change a person’s lifestyle, it confronts a myriad of problems. The overall structure has been copied by 5 other major cities including Los Angeles. Cleveland Works has a 10-year record that says it works!

Copyright for the Homeless Grapevine published Spring 1996 – Issue 15