Opening career opportunities
Baltimore resident Emma Smith, 61, was looking for her big break last year. She had been working hard as a security guard, but still wasn’t making enough money to comfortably pay the bills.
“They took pride in saying that they paid people 60 cents over minimum wage. Wow,” Smith said sarcastically.
She had recently received a commercial driver’s license from a local training program, but “I couldn’t get my foot in the door” to drive buses, she said.
Then, Smith saw a flyer about Maryland New Directions (MND), a local nonprofit that offers employment coaching and specialized career training for residents of the Baltimore area, ages 18 to 60, at no cost. On a whim, she signed up for a training course, thinking there was no harm in trying a free program.
“I started a training but didn’t even finish it,” Smith said. “They just sent me immediately over to a job counselor.”
Using MND’s connections, the job counselor found Smith a position with the Maryland Transit Association as a professional bus operator. She celebrated one year with the company in August.
“I really love my job,” Smith said. “I’m very grateful.”
Smith is just one of the 300 people each year who use MND’s services, which include trainings, resume review, mock interviews, career counseling, networking practice and more.
Established in 1972, MND was originally called Baltimore Nontraditional for Women. It provided women, especially widows and divorcees, with the connections and skills to enter the workforce.
Within a few years, however, it began to include men, too. “Over the years, the organization just evolved as the community evolved,” Program Director Maurice Good said. “As they tell us what the needs are, we have been able to adapt.”
Since then, MND has served low-income residents, those leaving incarceration, single parents and anyone who needs help finding employment.
Several years ago, MND noticed that some Baltimore residents were floating from one job-training program to another to acquire more skills for their careers, but to no avail.
“They were still being left empty,” still without a job, Good said. “That’s where we began to create our industry-specific trainings.”
There are three training programs available through MND: hospitality and customer service, commercial transportation and maritime. With these three tracks, participants can get the certifications and connections they need to secure a job in those fields.
Each training session requires a commitment of 60 to 90 hours over two to three weeks. Since May, these daytime programs have been taught virtually, due to the pandemic.
MND partners with employers in the three career tracks so that job counselors can provide the participants with direct access to hiring officials, as Smith can attest. According to Good, many trainees get hired after completion, and those who do have a retention rate in their first year of 82%.
Even if a trainee doesn’t get a job straight out of training, the organization also offers two years of follow-up. As a client, “I can expect for someone to call me and say, ‘Hey, how are you doing? Is there anything MND can assist you with?’” Good said.
MND staff communicate with former participants every 90 days. Smith usually gets a phone call, or an email, as a way of “checking on each other periodically,” she said.
Training programs and job counselors, however, aren’t the only assistance MND provides. Baltimore residents can also have access to the computer lab for their internet needs, access to a closet with free interview-appropriate clothes, and help from volunteers with resume writing and job searching.
Darryl Hines, 55, is one of the 10 to 15 volunteers who give one-on-one assistance. He started volunteering with MND in January, after he retired from the information technology industry.
“My goal has always been to work for a nonprofit and to help people,” Hines said. “This was an opportunity to do both.”
Before the pandemic, he would hold open hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays from noon to 4 p.m., when anyone could sit down and chat with him without an appointment. He helped type resumes, write cover letters, and help with any other online services in the computer lab.
Hines also assisted with the interview closet. Before March, he helped two men who didn’t have suits in their wardrobe. “I showed them how you can wear the same navy-blue suit with different shirts” to create multiple outfits, he said.
Now, with many staying in their homes due to the coronavirus, Hines is volunteering virtually. “I’ve been able to do the same things I did in the office,” through phone calls, emails and Zoom meetings, he said.
With MND services going virtual, however, fewer Baltimore residents are taking advantage of the free assistance. Before coronavirus, Hines would help eight to 10 people a week. Now he communicates with half as many.
“A lot of clients aren’t receptive to Zoom or the phone,” which might be due to a lack of resources or even shyness, Hines explained.
Virtual training works well
For those who are cautious about applying for jobs during these virtual times, MND offers a virtual etiquette class before every training program to address ways to be professional at home. After all, “Virtual is new for so many people,” Good said.
In fact, due to this etiquette course and the five subsequent virtual trainings since May, several participants have been hired, according to Good.
Even without the face-to-face interactions, the virtual trainees still get access to employers through MND they otherwise wouldn’t have, just like Smith did last year.
“I’m really happy that [MND] is training,” Smith said. “People need encouragement more than anything, just to know that everything will work out.”
Because of MND, Smith has faith that, even during a pandemic, she can drive an MTA bus through the streets of Baltimore with a smile behind her mask and a stable paycheck waiting for her at home.
For more information or to volunteer with Maryland New Directions, visit mdnewdirections.org or call (410) 230-0630.