How to Get a Job and Keep It
Posted: January 27, 2011
It is hard to explain that voice unless you've heard her speak. Once you have, it is easy to see why she's been asked to give commencement speeches at several high school and GED graduations. She began her work in nine years ago with a grant from the Mellon Foundation to do workforce development: teach skills like resume writing, career placement, how to get a job and keep it in Chester County. Since then, it has been expanded to work with over 6000 people over the years in a variety of programs: small groups, large groups, after school programs, detention centers, GED programs, and graduate students. "6000 is a lot of people, but it just isn't enough. There are so many more that need help."
"Diverse" is the best word to describe the people that she has and continues to reach in Chester County. They come from all backgrounds and economic levels, all ages, all ethnicities, all geographic locations from rural to urban. There is no end to the people who are benefiting from any number of services offered from financial planning to resume services to what jobs are "hot" right now. "What is the biggest, most universal problem we have in our country right now?" I waited and then hesitantly offered, "Unemployment?" She snapped back her response, "Absolutely the biggest problem! Everyone is dealing with it and our job is to help make it through these crazy times in areas where there just isn't an easy way out like Southern Chester County."
These programs also have a strong sense of personal skills coming into play in job placement. The participants can take personality tests and job placement tests to find work that is not only hiring more workers, but finding ways to tailor the work so each individual can do it better. And there is a lot of job watching and community resource experiences as well. The various programs have taken people to see local public libraries, local businesses, area schools, colleges, day care centers, auto repair shops and factories, and even a spa! "You can't know what you want or need unless you see it!" The development for career awareness is a unique part of these programs.
This work has a deep personal meaning for Brenda Williams as well. As a first generation college student herself, she sees her work in getting people into jobs and schools as an important part of changing injustice in America. "Education is the great equalizer," she believes, and her work is out to make that happen.
"I'm an African American woman. I'm a first generation college student and I am lucky. My children are second-generation college grads and are doing well. Some folks down here ... they aren't even close to having a [first generation] yet. That needs to change. Education is the great equalizer."
To contact Brenda Williams about her work in Chester County, call the local Cooperative Extension Office at 610-696-3500 x15 or email her directly.