Ready to Work panel helps prepare Lyndale job seekers

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As participants entered the space normally set up for Lyndale’s ESL classes, conversation buzzed with the anticipation of a different, innovative kind of event—a job seeker’s workshop.

Attendees greeted one another and their teachers in English, Spanish, and Somali as they checked in to the Banquet Hall at Zion Lutheran Church and found a headset to listen to interpreters relay valuable information about the night’s activities that focused on finding and applying for a job—a relevant way that many of LNA’s English as a Second Language (ESL) students will be using their developing English skills.

At the workshop participants had the opportunity to listen to advice from a panel of local employers who generously took the time to share their knowledge of the world of work, practice filling out job applications and resumes, rehearse interviewing techniques, and learn about resources available to help them improve their prospects.

The panelists shared what qualities they look for in employees. Lonnie McQuirter Jr. from the neighborhood BP said that how you present yourself and your desire to work and stick with the job is the most important thing to him when he’s hiring someone. Elizabeth Wozniak from Seward Co-Op, said that being multilingual is a plus, as well as having experience in grocery, produce, cooking, food preparation and meat and seafood. However, if you seem like the right person for the job, their business is willing to train.

Dan Swenson Klatt, who has owned and operated Butter Bakery for eight years says that maintaining employees in entry level jobs once they’ve received basic training can be challenging. He tries to continually teach employees new skills, hoping that professional growth will incentivize them to stay. Mr. Swenson tries to develop a flexible schedule with employees, since many of them are part time and have other jobs. An employee with strong communication skills as well as someone who is able to see the customer’s point of view is key to him.

The audience for the panel took advantage of the opportunity to ask poignant questions like “Why are there so few city employees from our cultures that speak our languages?” Heidi Hamilton from the City of Minneapolis indicated an evolution at the municipal level toward searching for employees that are representative of the communities they serve.

This led to the next critical question “How can we get hired when we have little to no formal work experience?” Ms. Hamilton explained that even the entry level jobs at the city require skilled workers, which they are having trouble finding. This is a sentiment has been echoing through the area as communities plan for the future—What opportunities can we create today to ensure we have the skilled workforce necessary for tomorrow? Hamilton then described a lengthy interview process for city jobs including an interview with a panel and several skill tests such as reading a map. An English language learner could be quite capable of these tasks with training, but they may prove daunting at first. She mentioned the Step Up program, which provides internships and guidance to ensure a successful transition from education to the world of work by developing experience for youth in Minneapolis.

Although learned skills are important, so is being able to present yourself in a positive light and showcase your positive values. Lonnie McQuirter Jr. explained that some of the most loyal employees he has known came to his business with little to no experience. What is more important, he said, is being able to verbalize how you dealt with a problem or situation that was challenging to you in the past and the solution you found. This demonstrates that you can do the right thing even when a supervisor isn’t around. Elizabeth Wozniak told the audience that a professional demeanor includes never badmouthing your formal employer. Instead express real interest for the job you’re applying for and think of a way to demonstrate your ability to cooperate with others and willingness to start at entry level and work your way up.

Almost all of the panelists mentioned that their job postings, application process, and follow up after the interview takes place online and through email. This is an important aspect for our ESL neighbors to realize and become accustomed to accessing. Dan Swenson pointed out that although sometimes jobs come from the newspaper or internet but other times you can get to know the employer by stopping by and supporting the business to introduce yourself, let them know you’re interested in working, and be a good neighbor. Many people want to hire someone they’re comfortable with.

Following the panel Project for Pride in Living (PPL) interacted with people interested in free job training classes to improve their skills, the Open Door Learning Center was available for people interested in completing their GED, and a Workforce Center representative was available for people who wanted more in depth assistance preparing their resume.

Inbetween stations participants clustered at the tables to review the written feedback they received on how to improve their interview performance, filled out a survey to evaluate the event, and ask follow-up questions to the panelists. Some people couldn’t help but laugh while practicing a firm American handshake and maintaining eye contact with others at the table.

Some questions that remain to be addressed include how to help community members who have the desire to work but are unable due to documentation or physical disability. Participants were so involved in congregating with one another about their work and their livelihood that the organizers had to usher them out of the space when time was up! For LNA, and for the future of events that meet identified community needs like Ready to Work, this was a very good start.