Job clubs are one of the unsung heroes of our economic recovery. They offer practical and technical tools for a successful job search, including networking, social media training, and direct access to employers seeking qualified and dependable employees. But they also offer much more: fellowship, spiritual and emotional support, and confidence.
Last week, we shined a much deserved spotlight on these groups at the White House Job Clubs Forum held in the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. More than 100 community leaders joined us from 23 states to share the impacts their job clubs are having in communities across the country and the partnerships they have formed with employers and the public workforce system.
The forum was the culmination of a series of events our office has been holding over the past year as part of the Department of Labor’s Job Clubs Initiative. Our initiative provides a community of practice that allows job club leaders, volunteers, and partners to coordinate with each other, share promising practices and lessons learned, and directly connect to Department of Labor information and resources. Through the initiative, we are also supporting the recent growth of job clubs by helping new groups get started and facilitating partnerships between job clubs and DOL’s nearly 3,000 American Job Centers.
Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships, kicked off the forum with a message from President Obama and words of support and encouragement. Danielle Gray from the White House National Economic Council and Portia Wu from the Domestic Policy Council also addressed the group, thanking them for their role in the economic recovery and encouraging them to connect with the range of jobs policies and programs being implemented under the Obama Administration from re-employment assistance to community college job training.
Each of the White House speakers acknowledged that success in the economic recovery has required and will continue to require an “all-hands-on-deck” approach; and that job clubs help lead this effort. Three panels featuring job club leaders, faith leaders, and workforce officials then provided the specifics of the all-hands-on-deck approach in their programs.
We heard from Father Paul Hruby of St. Julie Billiart Catholic Church in Los Angeles and Reverend Paul Hobson Sadler of Mt. Zion Congregational in Cleveland, both of whom have made their churches’ employment ministries a top priority in their respective congregations and communities. Traci Nolen from Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program and Joyce Young from Brevard Workforce discussed the ways their agencies partner with community-based job clubs to reach a wider range of job seekers, while also offering a distinct service to current clients.
Finally, in our closing panel titled “Job Clubs 2.0,” job club leaders discussed emerging trends in the growing job club field. These trends include volunteer job clubs incorporating as formal nonprofit organizations, new and innovative strategies for working with employers, and the “high-tech, high-touch” potential of job support groups.
The event was made complete with a rousing address from U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, who has been a tremendous supporter of the job clubs movement. Secretary Solis articulated the essence of job clubs while expressing her gratitude to the assembled community leaders, “Thank you for reminding us that in America, taking care of one another is not just an obligation, but a tradition.”
Ben Seigel is the deputy director of the Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Labor