Connecting People to Jobs
In Baltimore, a network of Career Centers located throughout the City uses a customer-oriented approach to connect low income residents to jobs in the City, Baltimore County and surrounding areas. Easy to access by both job seekers and employers, the Centers integrate the services of a wide range of agencies and make special efforts to solve customers’ problems with transportation -- through programs like Bridges to Work -- child care and family emergencies.
The centerpiece of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke’s "Employ Baltimore" strategy to aggressively promote employment for City residents is the Career Center Network. Through six "One-Stop" Career Centers and several satellite community facilities, the Network brings together the many service partners needed to offer workforce development services to the entire Baltimore community.
Although services are targeted to City residents, the impact of Baltimore’s Network goes well beyond the City proper. Through partnerships with other workforce projects operating in the area, including the federally-supported Bridges to Work program, the Network reaches out to employers in Baltimore County and the surrounding areas. For example, special efforts are made to solve problems with transportation, child care and family emergencies for residents seeking employment within and outside the City limits.
Services in the Network are designed to put the job-seeking "customer" first. To create a customer-friendly environment at each center, partner agencies shifted the focus away from managing program-specific eligibility requirements. Now, staff members from different parent organizations are integrated across the system, cross-trained, and equipped to tailor services to each customer’s unique situation and need.
Access – The locations for the Centers were carefully selected with the customer in mind. Centers are found in active areas of the City which are easily accessible by public transportation. Safe, convenient parking and flexible hours help job seekers access the Network.
Outreach – Network staff don’t wait for customers to show up. A comprehensive outreach program requires that the centers initiate or participate in a minimum of five community activities each month. Because residents of Baltimore identify so strongly with their neighborhoods, staff participation in events such as block parties, local job fairs, and neighborhood clean-up projects is a high priority. Network staff members also deliver job search and career development workshops at churches and community centers as well as at partner government agencies. The Empowerment Zone serves as a focal point for many such activities.
To facilitate better communication between community groups and Network staff, a comprehensive resource guide was also developed. Groups listed in this resource are contacted regularly by Network staff, keeping them updated on Career Center activities, training program offerings and special hiring events. The Centers have been the first choice for hosting community activities such as graduations and collaboration meetings.
Organization – Each Center has a full complement of professional job development staff, whose primary purpose is to assist the job-seeker or employer in using all available resources. Even job titles reflect the importance of customer service. Case managers, counselors and receptionists are all now "customer service representatives" and job developers are now "account executives." Most importantly, organizations no longer work independently to meet individual placement quotas. Center staff work toward a Network goal of total citizens served and employed.
Design and Services – Providing a professional, businesslike environment for all Centers is also important to the Network. Customers manage their job search in comfortable and visually open facilities. They attend workshops on interviewing, resume writing, appropriate dress, communication and other skills; job clubs in which job-seekers share ideas and gain peer support; tutorials on basic math and language skills accessible on the computer; and GED preparation programs. Unemployment insurance claims can be filed at the Centers, and health consultations are available at least one day each week. Computers, fax machines, telephones, copiers, printers and resource libraries are available on a self-serve basis to all customers. Following a standardized plan, the resource libraries offer books, annual reports, brochures and pamphlets, telephone directories, audio and video tapes, resource guides, daily newspapers and updated job listings from the Employ Baltimore Job Bank.
Technology – The computer system used by the Employ Baltimore Job Bank is based on the "CareerNet" technology developed by the State of Maryland for use throughout its workforce system. This statewide system integrates a number of on-line services, creates an interagency communication system and offers access to the Internet. Baltimore has added computer applications to this user-friendly system which customers use for self-directed job searches. In the Centers, job seekers work in small private cubicles, and staff members are always available to assist them with the computer programs used to explore career options, learn more about the job market, and surf the Internet. Customers can also use the system to research current job openings and be referred to jobs throughout the Baltimore area.
Employer Services – Employers access the Career Center Network through staff at the central Employ Baltimore office, through account executives located at the Centers, or through the CareerNet computer system. They can use the technology to search for employees, input job orders, and access labor market and human resource information. However, once contact is made, each employer is assigned an account executive who is responsible for first-rate, specialized assistance with recruiting, screening, testing and customized training. For example, many employers use the Career Centers for on-site interviews with pre-screened job candidates or to have special academic or occupational tests administered. Others make use of tax incentives after training and hiring low income individuals for their business.
Perhaps the best indicator of success for Baltimore’s Career Center Network is the growth experienced by those who access its staff and resources. Last year, over 5,000 adults used the Network’s training and job search services to find new employment. Approximately 300 employers hired Employ Baltimore referrals to build their business. Nearly 800 employment training professionals from across the country visited Baltimore career centers to benchmark their own systems against Baltimore’s model.
"We are proud of our city’s success in connecting job seekers of all backgrounds with employers in multiple growth industries," says Mayor Schmoke. "Through Employ Baltimore and the Career Center Network we are working to unlock Baltimore’s full workforce potential."
Bridges to Work
Baltimore is one of five cities chosen in 1996 to implement the Bridges to Work demonstration program, a test of whether improved access to suburban jobs can significantly improve outcomes for low income urban workers and their neighborhoods. Funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Federal Transit Administration and a consortium of private organizations, Bridges to Work is operating in Baltimore and in other cities which have developed a placement mechanism capable of connecting inner-city residents to suburban job openings, a targeted commute to allow residents to reach those suburban destinations, and support services to mitigate problems created or exacerbated by the daily commute to distant and unfamiliar job locations. Bridges to Work partnerships, or collaboratives, have been developed among city and suburban Service Delivery Areas and Private Industry Councils, community organizations, employer representatives, transportation providers, state and local human services providers, and others necessary to make the program work.
The Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC) is the convener of the Baltimore collaborative. Through discussions with community residents, HEBCAC determined that its program would focus on placement in permanent jobs paying a minimum wage of $6.00 per hour and offering health benefits, would provide a $4.00 per day round-trip transportation subsidy for the life of the demonstration, and would provide support services to aid job retention and conflict resolution. The transportation method of choice is near-door-to-door van service.
During its 18-month pilot phase which began in January 1997, Baltimore’s Bridges to Work has been enrolling 800 East Baltimore residents; 400 are in a "control group" receiving placement in jobs in the City’s Fairfield Empowerment Zone; 400 are in a "treatment group" being placed in jobs in the BWI (Baltimore-Washington International Airport) Business District. The pilot phase of the program is now being evaluated by Public/Private Ventures, a nonprofit group based in Philadelphia which is managing the overall Bridges to Work demonstration.
Contact: Linda Harris, Director, Office of Employment Development, City of Baltimore, (410) 396-1910