Community Newsletter – May 2021
Letter from the Executive Director
The MassHire Lowell Career Center staff have been working hard, helping job seekers connect to new opportunities and connecting businesses to candidates for their open positions. Since the pandemic began we have seen:
- Over 1,200 customers for their re-employment review
- Over 1,700 job seekers have attended our orientations to become new members
- Over 3,700 job seekers attending our webinars
- Over 377 businesses served
We welcomed new staff members Sivkheng Sar and Tharvith Thao this spring. We have been busy getting our new Young Adult Career Center open while gearing up for our Summer Work Experience. Madeline Colon-Rivera has been promoted to work on the Job Plus program, working with residents in the Lowell Housing Authority’s North Common Village. Finally, we have had a successful recruiting and case management of our participants in Nashoba Valley’s Career Technical Initiative (CTI) programs. Our plumbing group has finished and they are looking forward to furthering their career in that field. We have just wrapped recruiting for Nashoba Tech and Greater Lowell Tech’s CTI programs in plumbing and welding.
Summer Work Experience 2021
Applications for the Summer Work Experience Program are now open. Starting work date for the young adults is July 6th. This year the program is expected to service 250 to 290 young adults.
This year the program will be split between an in-person work experience or a virtual, project-based assignment. We are expecting about 65 to 90 organizations or companies to host in-person interns this summer. Other program features include some young adults earning a Google IT certification or participating as peer leaders.
This year’s program will run out of our new MassHire Young Adult Career Center at 115 Merrimack Street in downtown Lowell.
Eligible participants are low-income young adults who reside in Lowell or Dracut and are between the ages 14 and 21. If you know any young adults who may eligibility for the program, please direct them to the starting page at https://masshirelowellcc.com/summer2021/
We are pleased to announce that Madeline Colon-Rivera has been promoted to work on the Jobs Plus grant. Madeline has worked for us for 16 years serving our Spanish-speaking population. In this role, she will be located at the Mercier Center working alongside Lowell Housing Authority staff to place residents of the North Common Village in employment. Residents who enroll this program not only will receive intensive job development and readiness services but when placed in employment they will be eligible for the earned income disregard. Their rent will not increase with the increase in income. This will enable residents to save with the goal to move residents out of public housing and out of poverty. Currently, there are 50 residents enrolled with a goal of 250 over the four-year period of the grant.
Nine students have completed the Hands-on Plumbing training course. The students completed a 200-hour program conducted at Nashoba Valley Career Technical Institute (NCTI) in Westford.
By finishing the program the nine students earned:
- OSHA 10 Construction Safety & Health card
- Viega ProPress credential
- MegaPress credential
- TracPipe CSST training card
- Tier 1 Code 110 hours Education towards their journeyman’s plumbing license
- Nashoba’s NCTI (Nashoba Valley Career Technical Institute) 200-hour plumbing certificate
With Tier 1 Education in plumbing, they are able to work as plumbers apprentices. The students will now be working with staff from MassHire Lowell Career Center to build a résumés and start job searching. Additionally, to connect the students with local plumbing companies, the class was visited by Nashoba employer partners, including a recruitment specialist from Local 12 Plumbers Union, the wonder of Ellis Plumbing & Heating, and a representative from Viega piping.
The students were mostly from Greater Lowell communities, including Chelmsford, Dracut, Lowell, Groton, and Wayland.
A New World – New Technologies
Once our doors closed to the public last March, we immediately begin trying to find solutions to continue to deliver services to our customers.
Initially we searched for basic communications tools to allow staff to communicate with each other from home. But soon, we were experimenting with all kinds of technology that would help us retain the level of service customers expect from us.
We did have the jump on other career centers in the Massachusetts.
Two years earlier we started transitioning some of our workshops to be offered as webinars. Our workshop facilitators Stacey Thompson and Bob McIntosh were prepared to quickly take our entire workshop catalog online.
With a full calendar of online events in place by April, our career advisors could rely on our core job search trainings when working with customers.
Because of our early adoption of webinars, we found that are number for some events increased dramatically. In our building, we could never host more than 40 individuals at an event, but some of our online guest speaker events attracted more than 100 participants.
Additionally, our events were attracting participants from across the state. For some events, more 50% of participants resided outside of Greater Lowell.
Our Career Center Seminar is now “virtual” being delivered on the GotoWebinar platform. It does come with a struggle as some customers find the new format difficult. We have recorded “on-demand” events for those customers not able to attend live events.
For the one-on-one sessions, staff has been using a variety of technologies from Zoom, Webex, and Google Voice.
Although we have made progress in being able to deliver services online – like almost all organizations – we struggle to find the right combination of features, pricing and ease of use.
Premier Virtual is another new product to career centers. This product allows us to host job fairs and recruitments online. Hiring hasn’t stopped during the pandemic, but we needed to change how we get job seekers in front of employers.
The Premier Virtual system has been using during the Veterans’ Job Fair and several recruitments. Even though it doesn’t replace the buzz of real job fair, it does help connect employers and job seekers.
As we return toward some form of normalcy, the lessons we have learned will be lasting. We will not be discarding these tools but incorporating them to provide more comprehensive ways of helping our customers.
Career Readiness Classes at Abisi Adult Education
Two of our staff members are currently conducting virtual classes on job search and career readiness for students of Abisi Adult Education in Lowell.
Career Advisor Daphne Nichols and Workshop Facilitator Stacey Thompson have been conducting the classes with the assistance of the teachers at Abisi Adult Education.
The classes are designed to assist students in becoming more prepared for a job search or to explore career options. Many of the students struggle in being able to translate their skills and credentials from their home country to the job search in the United States.
In addition to the classes, Daphne and Stacey are also offering one-on-one sessions with students who are interested in finding a new job or wanting to explore training options.
Daphne said it is inspirational to see how much the students working. In addition to working one or more jobs, the students are still coming to Abisi Adult Education to improve their English skills.
“It has been a very rewarding experience,” said Daphne. “I have a renewed appreciation of how hard these students are working. Not only are they struggling with a new culture, but they are also trying to find how their skills fit here.”
While the students sometimes struggle to understand some career-related concepts, Stacey reminds them not to give up and that will get this if they don’t give up. Stacey also believes it has been a learning experience for her.
“I’ve increased my skill in working with people with varying backgrounds and language skills,” said Stacey. “It has been a success for us all.”
DUA Hiring Push with Bob McIntosh
Workshop Facilitator Bob McIntosh normally focuses on the job seeker role in the hiring process. But for the last couple of months, Bob has been experiencing it from the employer’s view.
Bob has been conducting interviews on behalf of the Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA). In an attempt to increase staffing during the pandemic, DUA wanted to hire 500 new unemployment representatives to temporary one-year jobs.
Bob’s role has been to conduct the initial interview and push forward to the next round anyone he believes is up to the job. He has conducted about 17 interviews and estimates that he has forward about 90% to the next round.
Seeing the hiring process from an employer’s perspective has been a learning experience in how job seekers conduct interviews. Experiences is not always such a big deal, said Bob.
“I’ve learned that there are some people prepared for the interview and some that are not,” said Bob. “Enthusiasm played a big part in who I have pushed forward.”
Since the push for new Unemployment Reps was started, the state has interviewed 383 individuals, 135 are already working and another 62 will be starting soon.
New Staff Member – Sivkheng Sar
In April, Sivkheng Sar joined the career center as our new career advisor. Sivkheng will be assisting customers in their job search and exploring training options. Because of her language skills, she will specialize in assisting the center’s large Khmer-speaking population.
Sivkheng comes to the center will much experience in social work. She is a licensed social worker (LSWA) and a graduate of Northeastern University. In the past, she has worked with the Department of Children and family and served for a number of years as a social worker.
A native of Cambodia, Sivkheng now resides in Lowell with her family.
New Staff Member – Thavrith Thao
Thavrith Thao joined the career center in May as a new Business Services Representative. Thavrith is well suited for this role as he spent more than a decade working as a recruiter.
A native – and resident — of Lowell, Thavrith is a graduate of Lowell High School and Middlesex Community College. In addition to working as a recruiter, Thavrith has also worked for the Mental Health Association of Greater.
Thavrith said that he is already noticing the difference between working for a career center rather than a private company. He said that he is hopeful to make a difference in helping both employers and job seekers.
Staff Profile: Janet O’Brien
Getting the job is the easy part, believing in yourself is the bigger struggle.
For MassHire Lowell Career Center’s Janet O’Brien, improving the lives of customers does not start with the job search. It begins with building back a customer’s confidence and self-esteem.
“Our customers often come with low self-esteem, not believing in themselves. My job is to get the customers to start believing in themselves again.”
In helping customers, Janet can rely on over 25 years of experience in workforce development. A native of Centerville in Lowell, Janet joined the Career Center – then known as the Merrimack Valley Regional Skills Training Center – back in the mid-90s.
Janet started with the Career Center as a Database Administrator tracking numbers such as enrollments, placements, and services. From that base, Janet soon moved on to direct customer support by being promoted to create a new curriculum for computer and office management skills.
Building curriculum has been a constant in Janet’s career. She works with customers who face many challenges including a lack of marketable skills. Janet developed a curriculum for multiple occupations, including nursing assistant, clerk office staff, and computer proficiency in programs such as MS Office or QuickBooks.
Currently, Janet serves as the Program Coordinator for the Competitive Integrated Employment Services (CIES) program with low-income customers. It’s a challenging grant, but under Janet’s watch, the program has received much recognition for its achievements with customers.
Over the last four years, the CIES program attained an 85% percent job placement rate and has exceeded every enrollment goal. These achievements have come despite the many challenges from this population. Many customers in the program are experiencing crises in their lives such as domestic violence, lack of skills, or may be experiencing the “cliff effect” where individuals are resistant to finding employment out of fear of losing financial support.
But it’s not reaching the goals that motivates Janet, it’s the personal stories. She can site many examples of success, but one customer named Anna particularly touched her.
“Anna came from Puerto Rico and spoke no English,” said Janet. “She is a single parent with two children. I took her under my wing and worked to get her HiSet and nursing assistant license. She now owns a home and is studying to become a registered nurse.”
After many years in the field, Janet is impressed with recent changes. She notices more interaction with the local Department of Transitional Assistance office and support from social service agencies. She believes agencies are now working closer to almost co-case manage customers.
Janet’s years of experience offers much to career center customers. Janet is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, BEST Plus Testing Administrator, and certified in Mental Health First Aid. In addition to coordinating the CIES program, she can be hands-on.
Janet has written thousands of résumés during her career and her style has been copied by many staff members. She also conducted numerous workshops over the years.
Although the pandemic made this an exceptionally difficult year to offer services, Janet noticed that it allowed her to connect more with customers and to get to know them better. Services became less about meeting employment or training goals, but more about checking in on the well-being of people.
But Janet isn’t slowing down. She is currently re-building the curriculum turning it into a hybrid model with training programs in nursing, MS Office, and digital literacy, pharmacy tech, and the trades. But as always, it is not the program that matters it is the results it brings to her customers.
“Seeing someone succeed and believing in themselves is the rewarding thing to me.”
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