Career Development and Placement Strategies
Launched in March 2012, Expert Reclaim, a creative social enterprise initiative of Career Development and Placement Strategies, Inc., The Cleveland Foundation, and the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry, has already helped 19 tough-to-employ men find jobs.
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Everyone knows it’s tough to find a job during a recession. But some Ohioans face additional challenges. For example, while overall the state‘s unemployment rate is 8.7 percent, among African-Americans it’s 17 percent. Particularly tough economic realities in Cleveland have led the National Urban League to focus a major new jobs initiative there. Meanwhile, a small local nonprofit in the city, Career Development and Placement Strategies, Inc. (CDPS), is trying to serve a group with an extra layer of challenges: those recently released from prison or on probation. There’s no shortage of demand for help. According to the Cuyahoga County Office of Reentry, 10,000 felons were released in the county in 2010 and 70 percent went to Cleveland.
Maurice Stevens, President and CEO of CDPS, Inc., has been working for many years with this population and says it’s his ability to connect with them that helps him gain their trust. “Based on my own life experiences and my personality I’m able to meet them where they are at,” he explains.
In spring 2012 Steven’s small nonprofit started Expert Reclaim, a social enterprise devoted to providing on-the-job training to men referred to him from the court system and by word-of-mouth. Expert Reclaim offers services to customers in four areas: commercial and residential cleaning, vacant property management, home renovation, and landscaping maintenance and repair. “We take the guys through a series of assessments and aptitude tests to map out which trade is the best fit for them,” Stevens reports. Every participant goes through a 4-week life skills class that runs 10:00-2:00 most weekdays. During this segment participants receive $7.50/hour. “We cover topics like financial literacy, entrepreneurship, fatherhood, relationships, and employer expectations,” Stevens says. These are all at introductory levels given the short time period but participants who want a deeper dive can participate in additional workshops offered by CDPS.
Following that first month, participants go one of two routes. Some move into paid internships for 90-180 days at about $9/hour at Expert Reclaim or one of its subcontractors. This bridge employment “gives them opportunities to work that they wouldn’t be able to get otherwise” says Stevens, and provides time for the men to learn marketable skills (e.g., in carpentry or landscaping). Others are ready to go into jobs for local employers that Stevens and his staff have helped identify through their networks. Some of these positions pay upwards of $15-$16/hour. Since inception, 25 men have completed the program and 19 are currently working, for an impressive placement rate of 76 percent.
For nonprofit leaders seeking to imitate this sort of program, some lessons learned by CDPS include:
- Build on existing assets and networks. The four occupational paths represented by Expert Reclaim emerged out of Stevens’ personal contacts, for example, with the Cuyahoga County Landbank and Cleveland Housing Network.
- Identify revenue generating ideas based on local needs. Cleveland’s high foreclosure rate has meant that there are a large number of vacant properties in the city. This opens up opportunities to sell services such as landscaping and vacant property management. Your social enterprise needs to find a market niche so it can thrive and grow.
- Ensure that staff and volunteers can relate well to the participants. “These guys get their hopes up and then get disappointed, says Stevens. “You have to be able to show them your true nature of seriousness; that you are going to stick with them and be committed to their success.”
- Have high expectations. CDPS is generous in that it offers a stipend for participants while they are in the training program. In return, though, it demands that participants meet tough requirements for attendance and participation.
- Assess well. Sometimes individuals drop out of job training programs, or out of new jobs, because their personalities and skills don’t fit well to the trade they’re trying out. Careful, individualized assessments at the front end can help mitigate against this.