State Policy Network
Hiring Well, Doing Good: Georgia’s community-based program is helping Americans get back to work

In early spring, Georgians were looking forward to upcoming summer vacations, seniors were excited for graduation, and the Atlanta Braves were prepping for opening day. No one was prepared for what was coming in just a few short weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic and the health and economic crisis that followed is proving to be one of the biggest challenges our country has ever faced. With businesses forced to close, America’s unemployment rate is expected to reach a level not seen since the Great Depression.

In Georgia, unemployment rose from 3.1 percent in February to 12.6 percent in April. Thousands of Georgians lost their jobs and were worried about how they would provide for their families. They needed help, but where could they look? Government assistance can be slow, and information on how to file for unemployment was often confusing and inconsistent. When Georgians dialed the unemployment office, “please call back later” was the message greeting them on the other end of the line.

Hope was not lost, though. Thanks to the Georgia Center for Opportunity, several Georgians found support through a GCO community program that’s connecting low-income people with job opportunities in their area.

GCO expands Hiring Well, Doing Good to help more Georgians find jobs

For years, the Georgia Center for Opportunity has made community outreach a priority, forming strong relationships with local nonprofit and business leaders. As Georgia’s economy started to shut down, communities across the state began to reach out to GCO, expressing their concern over the thousands of newly unemployed people. Interestingly, some business leaders noted there were still jobs that needed to be filled.

To help struggling families find the work they desperately needed, GCO expanded their Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) program in June. The initiative brings together nonprofits and business leaders with the shared goal of getting people into the job market. GCO connects low-income individuals with nonprofits in their neighborhoods where they can access the resources and training they need to prepare for the workforce. They are then matched with a job.

To expand HWDG, GCO convened bi-weekly phone calls between business leaders and nonprofits across the state. These local leaders exchanged information on shutdown orders, small business loans, and reopening plans. They also shared ideas on what they could do to help struggling families get back on their feet. Through these conversations, GCO decided to expand Hiring Well, Doing Good into Lawrenceville, Georgia. Shortly after announcing the expansion, GCO received over 100 applications from individuals who wanted to participate in the program.

“We are honored to launch the next phase of our programs in Lawrenceville, but this is only the start,” said Eric Cochling, chief program officer for HWDG and general counsel for GCO. “We continue to expand Hiring Well, Doing Good into new communities to help our neighbors and strengthen civil society. This initiative is highly scalable to other states and communities. Our broader goal is to see it replicated not only across Georgia, but the Southeast and even the US so that more families are able to bounce back from the economic devastation caused by COVID-19 and move into employment quickly.”

A participant of HWDG who was matched with a job.
Photo credit: Georgia Center for Opportunity

Using community input to tailor the program

GCO noted the program is evolving as they listen to the needs of the community and learn more from the people they are trying to help. For example, before the pandemic, the HWDG program involved a soft skills assessment, which GCO used to pair individuals with training opportunities that would build the specific skills they would need for professional success. But with 12 percent unemployment, what people really needed was a job—and fast.

GCO learned that people who have lost employment are hungry for stability, and they need to achieve some financial security before they focus on developing other skills. So, GCO delayed the soft skills assessment to focus first on connecting individuals to job opportunities that will fill their immediate needs. The soft skills assessment is now used later in the HWDG process, to build on participants’ job training.

Through the expansion of HWDG, several Georgians found jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Despite a global health and economic crisis, communities came together to help their struggling neighbors get back on their feet. Corey Burres, GCO’s vice president of communications, added: “It’s great to see what civil society does when you put the power back in the hands of the people. We can, will, and want to take care of other people.”

Categories: News
States: Georgia
Organization: State Policy Network