Organization Info

Towards Employment
Type: CBO
Sector: Employment for Adults, Ex-Offender Re-entry
City: Cleveland
Best Practice Program: Ex-offender re-entry jobs programs

Organization Mission

To empower individuals to achieve and maintain self-sufficiency through employment, and to aid low-income and disadvantaged adults in Greater Cleveland prepare for jobs, get jobs, keep jobs and move up the career ladder.


Towards Employment

Towards Employment helps individuals with barriers to employment to find new jobs and is assisting those in entry-level positions to step up to higher-paying jobs. And since 2004, it has helped over 1000 ex-offenders to find full-time, permanent jobs.  

Towards Employment: Creating Pathways to Jobs

Towards Employment main picJill Rizika, Executive Director of Towards Employment, says simply, “our sole purpose is jobs.” But the services provided by Towards Employment go beyond just helping people land new jobs. Their success has been built by implementing a holistic model, because “finding a job is not enough.”

Founded in 1976, the Cleveland-based nonprofit has helped over 120,000 low-income and disadvantaged adults prepare for jobs, get jobs, keep jobs, and move up the career ladder. Since 1998, it has successfully placed over 2000 former welfare recipients into permanent, fulltime jobs. Among its graduates, Towards Employment boasts job retention rates of between 75 and 80 percent after 90 days (the first 90-day period is the one of greatest instability for entry-level employees).

Some of the practices that have allowed Toward Employment to be successful in its mission are:

  •  A holistic approach to the employment process with long-term employment goals. Towards Employment’s approach is compassionate, recognizing that people coming off of public assistance, out of prison, or from the streets have many complex barriers to employment. To help individuals overcome these many obstacles, Towards Employment offers job search skills, supportive legal services, and access to vocational training. This three-fold approach has been praised by the Annie E. Casey Foundation based on research it has completed that indicates that this model leads to higher job retention rates.
  • Focusing on the right fit. Towards Employment desires to give individuals an opportunity for long-term job placement, helping them find the right fit. Rizika says the organization sees itself as “a bridge between the individual and the well-suited job.” Sometimes it helps people who have been working—but haven’t been able to break out of what have felt like “dead-end” jobs. At a recent event, Towards Employment showcased one such program participant, Roxanna Shelton. With help from job readiness workshops at Towards Employment, Shelton enrolled in University Hospital’s Pathways to PCA program. She went from a job on the housekeeping staff to a position as a Patient Care Assistant. Shelton is taking additional classes and hopes to continue to move up, perhaps to a position as a Clinical Tech Assistant. Shelton enthuses: “I went from a lifetime of dead-end jobs to starting a career.”Towards Employment second picture
  • Employer partnerships that help adequately place job-seekers. Towards Employment partners with employers that are ready to help their new employees succeed in their first job and get prepared for better jobs within the organization. For example, Towards Employment collaborated with hospitality industry employers to help them design a customized class for those interested in work in this field, combined with a four-week on-the-job training experience. They have seen solid results: an 82% hire rate, with those hired from this program retaining their jobs longer than those recruited from the general public. One employer experienced a decline in turnover from over 56% to 13% in two years of working with Towards Employment. Towards Employment also partners with employers to bring support services and career coaching directly to the worksite to enhance job retention among their entry-level workers.
  • Collaborations for services to aid disadvantaged adults in making critical lifestyle changes. Towards Employment seeks out additional services and programs to help individuals overcome academic, mental health, and other barriers to long-term employment. Such services include substance abuse and recovery resources, mental health treatment, adult literacy training, and transitional housing. They do this because “complex problems require comprehensive solutions.”

In 2004, Towards Employment took on a major new challenge: placing ex-offenders in full-time, permanent jobs. This population typically struggles with super high unemployment rates—and with no job, many ex-offenders end up committing new crimes and again going behind bars. Impressively, Towards Employment has successful placed more than 1,000 ex-offenders in permanent, fulltime jobs. The job retention rate among their graduates (after 90 days) is around 65 percent—compared with the national average of about 33 percent among similar programs that attempt to help ex-felons find and keep jobs.