PETERSBURG — Petersburg’s unemployment rate currently stands at 7.1 percent, which is well above the state’s unemployment rate of 3.8 percent.
Though city officials are hoping a new pilot program, Petersburg Works, can help change that. The program, which launched last week, aims to connect residents seeking employment with employers who are looking for workers.
“We’ve never had a successful workforce program here,” Mayor Samuel Parham said. “When people ask about bringing major companies to the city, those companies aren’t coming unless we have a workforce that is trained a ready to work. This is part of our plan to jump-start economic development here in the city.”
“When I first started, one of the goals that Mayor Parham and Councilman [Howard] Myers identified was the need to do a different job in workforce development,” Deputy City Manager Darnetta K. Tyus said.
There are numerous area employers taking part in the program including Pathways, Goodwill, various health-related organizations like the Crater Health District and Petersburg Public Schools.
Any resident 18 years or older is eligible to participate, regardless of education level or previous experience. The program will operate in three-month cycles, with participants attending special seminars that introduce them to companies and then those companies will identify participants they feel are a good fit, and have them attend their own training sessions they have developed.
Though Petersburg Works will also host five special workshops for all participants that will go over other information employees need.
“For example: if you’re an employee that Pathways identified, you’re going to complete the Pathways program,” Tyus said. “But in addition to the Pathways program, you’ll attend five workshops that are geared towards making sure we’ve addressed the soft skills you need to be a valuable employee.”
The program also seeks to address the barriers that have hindered sustainable employment for the participants. Whether it’s substance abuse, a lack of child care, a criminal background, or another issue, Petersburg Works will try to make it easier for residents facing those challenges to find sustainable employment.
“There are a series of sessions that focus specifically on the hardest barriers to address, like legal ones,” said Tyus.
The program will help educate participants on the rights they have as a worker.
“A participant may have a suspended drivers license, but they may not understand you can apply for a restricted one, which enables them to drive during the work hours they may have,” said Shawn Nicholson, the chief operating officer of Pathways.
The administration had two kick-off events last week, one of which focused specifically on students in Petersburg Public Schools’ adult education program who are looking to enter health care related fields.
“Several of our employers are in the health industry,” said Tyus. “So for that one, we were specific to that field.”
Dr. Ann Ifekwunigwe is in charge of the adult education programs for the school system.
“We have a group of students who are currently pursuing certification as a certified nurse aid (CNA) or a clinical medical assistant (CMA), but within the next 2-6 months, all of those students will be ready to be employed,” Ifekwunigwe said. “Connecting our students who are earning the certifications with the employers who need graduates with those certificates is huge.”
More than several area organizations in the health care field were at the kick-off.
“What [the students] learned from the employers is that they can apply now, they don’t have to wait until they’ve finished getting certified,” said Ifekwunigwe. “All of our students left [the kick-off] with applications and website links so they can actually apply.”
By centralizing recruiting efforts, Petersburg Works also hopes to capture data about area workers they can use going forward.
“Each of the providers deal with the community in their own respective ways,” Nicholson said. “Potential employees are coming through our doors to get whatever it is we offer them, so in conjunction with that, we’re incorporating the Petersburg Works model by way of an application they are able to fill out, that will address some of the needs and benefits they may or may not be already be receiving. With that, we’re able to insert that information into a database.”
Once the pilot group ends, city officials are hoping to continually grow the program to make it have more of a regional impact.
“It’s all about having a real come-to-the-truth moment about why you’re not working and what the city can do to help you get employed,” Parham said. “We’re all in this together.”
To inquire about the program, residents can contact the office of the Deputy City Manager Darnetta K. Tyus.