Oakland PIC Staff Members Guide Clients to Turn their Talents into Careers
It’s no secret that job seekers with felonies are often a tough sell to employers. They may have spotty work histories and no recent references, and may lack the soft skills that hiring managers look for. They may have to be more persistent than the average job seeker, but with programmatic support, they can eventually earn an income. For some, that means starting their own business.
As a panelist at the recent Workforce Development Summit in San Jose, Oakland Private Industry Council (PIC) Senior Career Counselor Olu Oluwole shared his expertise in working with formerly incarcerated job seekers, including guiding individuals to pursue self employment. The annual Summit, sponsored by the Bay Area Coalition for Employment Development, draws hundreds of workforce development specialists from the greater Bay Area.
Oluwole, who works in the PIC’s Breaking Through Barriers program, previously managed a halfway house for parolees. “Everyone has something they’re good at -- something they are born to do,” he told the audience at the Summit. “The problem is that they take their talents for granted. I remember a man who complained every day about how he couldn’t find a job, but on the weekends, he cut hair for the rest of the residents. His marketable skill was staring him right in the face but he didn’t see it.”
“Another guy was a talented artist,” Oluwole recalled. “I suggested he go to Fisherman’s Wharf, set up his easel, and sell his drawings to the tourists. He took my advice and began to make money. He couldn’t believe that someone would pay him for something he naturally did well.”
PIC counselors work intensively with clients to get them job-ready, helping them obtain their right-to-work documents, interview clothing, training, and tools. Ameenah Lutfee, longtime workshop leader at PIC, takes them through a week-long crash course in job seeking.
“It’s not the same job market we knew even a year ago. There is a constant shifting in this ‘new normal’ economy,” said Lutfee. Recognizing that attitude is a big part of success, she requires attendees to check their negativity at the door. “We’re here to encourage and uplift each other,” she said. “People with ‘poor me’ attitudes don’t get hired.”
While counselors are assisting clients with the logistics of job placement, they are also assessing them, pointing out their strengths, which come in the form of skills, interests, and personality traits.
And what happened to the halfway house barber, who often had a line of people waiting for haircuts?
“He did well,” Oluwole said. “He began charging money, and he now owns his own barbershop.”