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Do Words Matter?

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In the recent past a visitor to Saint Benedict Education Center (SBEC) might hear references made to helping participants “get a job” or developing relationships with area employers.  Department of Human Services (DHS) program guidelines set forth a short timeframe within which program participants were expected to get a job without considering that person’s skills, level of education, interests, or challenges.

But -- How does one get a job at a living wage without a GED or high school diploma?  How does one work full time while having to home school? How does one work an evening or night shift when no day care or transportation is available?  These are just some of the questions we have tried to answer.    

Today, one who listens to the conversation will hear: “Career path”, “credentials“, “certification”, or “workforce/career path specialist”.  “Job” is spoken, but differently.

What is this all about?  Are people, including some working in government agencies, just playing with words?  No.  The words used to describe a reality can create unrealistic expectations -- or provide opportunities. 

In its Racial Equity Report 2021, Leading the Fight for Justice, Equity, and Opportunity for All People, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services writes: “DHS has spent the last three years planning a redesign of our employment and training programs, which primarily serve TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] beneficiaries, to focus on how to better support this population and assist them in moving out of poverty…..We have been working to change the incentives in our program to provide more opportunity for our TANF beneficiaries to get more education credentials like General Education Development (GED) diplomas or job credentials and move away from simply focusing on getting individuals into low-wage jobs only to have them lose those jobs months later and return to our programs.”

How does one notice this change at SBEC?  Helping a client find a job, offering basic information and practicing the skills of employment – resume writing, communication skills, tips on appropriate attire, etc. – continue but the emphasis has shifted.  Conversations about careers are initiated and pursued.  What might be a reasonable and attractive career for a person, and how could this be pursued?   Education is encouraged.  What credentials are expected?  How can these be achieved?  

Digital literacy has become an additional learning skill.  Questions explored include: “What technology is available to me?”  “What courses or programs are available on-line that I need in my pursuit of a career path?”  “How do I acquire the technology?”  “How do I use it?”  

Our specialists work with clients to negotiate through job/career paths.  Some also offer courses to directly accompany participants in their career journey.

SBEC Workforce Specialist Don Feeney is offering a DHS approved training and credential program entitled Personal Care Home Direct Care Staff Person Training.  The flier states: “This training program will help you learn the basic skills and information to become a personal care staff person…. It will lead to a ‘certificate of completion.’” Don has finished one training and is now offering a second.

Wayne Bowersox, Career Pathways Specialist, has enabled SBEC to “partner with the National Retail Federation to offer the Retail Industry Fundamentals course and credential free of charge to EARN participants.”  The course enables the learner to take the exam for the Retail Industry Fundamentals credential -- a national, industry recognized certificate.  Attainment of a recognized certificate boosts a resume and shows a motivation to learn.

When asked to reflect on this change in words – this change in emphasis, really – Kara Bauer, County Program Supervisor, said: “Jobs for our folks generally seem to be short term.  The goal of a job is immediate gratification to get out of some sort of crisis mode.  On the other hand, a career or following a career path tends to be long term.  There’s usually vested interest and/or training of some sort before beginning a career.  Our job is to help clients increase their skills so they can obtain family sustaining jobs and stay off cash assistance.  The best plan is to first figure out clients’ interests, challenges, and skills and/or assist in training rather than just find them the first job we can.”

Words do matter.  They can change unrealistic expectations into opportunities for a better life – with the means to achieve it.