Fairfax workforce program makes believers out of job seekers

Fairfax—and Cleveland overall—faces issues of unemployment and underemployment, but the numbers are improving thanks to programs like the Fairfax Workforce Development Program. With focuses on job acquisition and retention, the program works with residents throughout their entire job search process.

“We help individuals with resumes, application processes, and interview etiquette,” says Program Manager Demetrius Williams.“The program not only helps with soft skills and filling out applications; after the individual is trained and ready for employment, we give them every opportunity to get hired.”

The program, which officially opened in 2014, is available to Fairfax residents as well as those in the surrounding Cleveland neighborhoods, though the primary focus is on Fairfax.

“We cater the program to you,” Williams says. “We don’t have a cookie-cutter process. We sit down and map out your goals. … Maybe you have a great resume and you don’t need help on it, but you need interview skills. You may only need help with filling out the application. However we can help you, we are there.”

Cheryl Duncan, who was reluctant to try yet another employment program, understood the  struggle to find a job very well. Duncan expressed all of the ways she had been disappointed by other organizations who made the same promises: “It was a numbers game, they didn’t really care. It was disappointing, you know? It was discouraging. Especially as someone who didn’t know as much about technology. I felt like trying another organization was pointless.”

After an hour-long discussion with a friend who had utilized and enjoyed the program, Cheryl felt empowered and ready to give it a try. When an RTA employment workshop came, Cheryl was first in line.

“There was a lot to the application. I’m not that tech-savvy,” Duncan says. “But every time I needed assistance, [the program was] there for me—throughout the entire process. I am so glad that I gave it a try. I’m living proof; the program works. I have a job!”

At the most recent RTA hiring event, 32 people were interviewed, and 23 were hired, pending a background check. At the previous event, the numbers were 16 people interviewed and eight hired, also with a background check pending. The two-person team mainly works with RTA and the Cleveland Clinic but has also had hiring events with Dominion Energy, AT&T and MGM.

The program aims to turn each person’s experience into a success story, with individual attention as well as opportunities for job seekers to meet with employers who are ready to hire. They specialize in efficiency. “There was a need in the community, and we began to alleviate the barriers between the community and the employers,” Williams says.

“They want you to succeed,” says Lawrence Adams, who also went through the program and is now employed at the Cleveland Clinic. “The Fairfax Workforce Development Program [even] checks in with you after you’re employed. They want you to get to the next level.”

Adams had been striking out with his job applications, but the program matched him up with ready employers ... and the experience was life-changing. His previous work experience was not in the medical field, and he didn’t expect to find the type of position that fit his unique background, but because of the program’s relationship with the Cleveland Clinic, he has had great success moving ahead. “Since getting hired, I’ve already moved up the employment line. It’s incredible,” he says.

“We invite them to workshops, job fairs, recruitment opportunities,” Williams says. “And once they’re hired, it doesn’t stop there. We know that the first 90 days are crucial, so we keep in close contact with the newly hired individuals to make the initial days as smooth as possible.”

Williams recalls one of the job seekers who went through the program and got hired at the Cleveland Clinic as well: “They started at their position, and everything was going well. Then they started missing work, and that was very strange for them. So we checked in. Turns out, they were having transportation troubles.”

The program was ready to help and began developing a solution. After working with the individual and the employer, they formed a plan to make sure the employee made it to work. For that individual, it meant the world. For Demetrius Williams, it was a joy to see the person succeed.

“I recommend this program because we’re passionate about what we do. We believe in helping residents achieve their goals,” Willams says. “We don’t waste anyone’s time.”

This article is part of our On the Ground - Fairfax community reporting project in partnership with Fairfax Renaissance Development Corporation, Cleveland Clinic, PNC Bank, Greater Cleveland Partnership, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, and Cleveland Development Advisors. Read the rest of our coverage here.