Seven months after the opening of New Haven Works, the “jobs pipeline” program has helped 117 Elm City residents find jobs.
Conceived in January 2012 by the Board of Alders, the pipeline is meant to help address New Haven’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, which stood most recently at 10 percent in November. Since June, the pipeline has offered free orientation meetings, background checks and mock interviews for New Haven job seekers. Its 15 partner employers, including Yale University, IKEA, Yale-New Haven Hospital and the Elm City Market, have agreed to strongly consider hiring applicants referred by New Haven Works.
The organization is still far from its goal of placing 250 city residents in jobs by the end of its first year, having placed 117 residents so far. Still, employer manager LaQuita Harris, who recruits and works with partner employers, is optimistic about the future.
“New Haven residents have skills, they do,” Harris said. “They want to work. We just need to be able to empower them and give people hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
On Tuesday night, 15 job seekers attended an orientation session at the New Haven Works building on Whitney Avenue. Manuel Ford, who has been unemployed for a year and has run out of unemployment benefits, said he felt hopeful that the program would enable him to overcome what he considers the biggest challenges in his job search: his criminal record and racial discrimination by employers.
“I’m probably looked at as an angry black man,” Ford said. “They look at me first before they even give me a chance to sell myself, or look at my list of qualifications.”
Harris said New Haven Works helps to overcome potential discrimination by pre-screening candidates so that employers can be sure of hiring skilled, productive workers. For employers, New Haven Works Executive Director Mary Reynolds said, this means a more efficient hiring process.
Vin Petrini, senior vice president of public affairs at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said the hospital had always tried to hire New Haven residents, so becoming a partner employer seemed a logical next step.
“Hiring New Haven residents helps build a sense of connection to the community, it helps build a sense of support and expertise, and that’s where I think the value is,” Petrini said.
Harris said New Haven Works is distinguished from other employment agencies and career centers by the specificity of its service: matching skilled, qualified Elm City job applicants with partner employers. After attending an orientation meeting to learn about the program, clients make an individual appointment with one of four counselors, who assess their background and help them determine which positions best fit their qualifications.
When a New Haven Works applicant is turned down for a job, Harris can ask the employer what the applicant lacked, she said.
Osikhena Awudu, who found his position as a senior administrative assistant at Yale Law School through New Haven Works, said receiving feedback from employers was the most helpful aspect of the program. He applied for four or five jobs before he was hired, and after each rejection he was able to find out why he had not been chosen, allowing him to better target his applications.
New Haven Works currently has strong partnerships with relatively few employers, but Harris said she meets regularly with human resources personnel in order to bring more companies on board. In addition to its 15 existing partnerships, New Haven Works has draft contracts with 10 employers, ready to be signed if the employer chooses.
Anthony Rescigno, president of the New Haven Chamber of Commerce and a board member of New Haven Works, said he believes smaller companies in particular have been reluctant to become partners because they’re waiting to see how larger companies fare with hires from New Haven Works.
“It’s an education process, to get the community to understand exactly what New Haven Works is doing,” Rescigno said. “but I think we’re making lots of headway.”
Over 5,000 New Haven residents were unemployed in November.