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Virginia Jobs Program Expands to Help Underserved Communities

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A Virginia community college provides skills training for a unique word-of-mouth program for job seekers. (Adobe stock)
A Virginia community college provides skills training for a unique word-of-mouth program for job seekers. (Adobe stock)
October 13, 2020

RICHMOND, Va. -- With hundreds of thousands still out of work in Virginia during the pandemic, the state is boosting funding for an innovative program that connects job seekers with employment networks through neighborhood contacts.

Piedmont Virginia Community College is receiving more than $1.5 million to expand its Network2Work model, which has provided jobs with livable wages for hundreds of unemployed folks.

Ridge Schuyler is dean of community self-sufficiency programs at the college and said the program uses a unique word-of-mouth approach where local contacts inform friends and community groups about job openings through smartphones. He said it has brought those left behind back into the workforce, particularly Black single mothers.

"We say, hey, there's this great job opportunity maybe three blocks away that you don't even know about. Are you interested in pursuing that opportunity? And that single mom who's been head down, just trying to figure out how to make ends meet, can lift her head up and think, 'I didn't even know that existed, I didn't know how to get to it. But now I do,'" Schuyler said.

Since Network2Work began in 2014, 85% of participants have found jobs, and almost 60% of those jobs pay more than $25,000 a year. More than half of the job seekers are African American and 40% are single mothers.

Schuyler said he began Network2Work with the Charlottesville Chamber of Commerce. But he soon realized the local community college could offer better skills training to help job seekers.

"Whether it's becoming a certified nurse assistant or a commercial truck driver, those skills are what make you worth not $7.25 an hour in the marketplace but $15 an hour," he said. "And community colleges can provide that skilling in a matter of weeks or months rather than years."

The additional funding will go to expand the program into the Shenandoah Valley, Hampton Roads and the greater Richmond area. Virginia's unemployment rate in August was 6.1%, almost 3.5 percentage points above the rate from a year ago.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service - VA