Aiysha Harris calls herself a walking advocate for Workforce Wednesdays at the University of Maryland, Baltimore's (UMB) Community Engagement Center (CEC).
The West Baltimore resident and mother of a UMB CURE Scholar got a job in housekeeping at UMB two years ago thanks to the employment assistance offered by the University’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE).
“Anytime I can speak on behalf of Workforce Wednesday, I am happy to because it had such an impact on my family,” Harris said. “I had applied here and at the hospital numerous times [in the past], but you’ve got to crack the Da Vinci Code to get in.”
That’s where Lisa Rawlings, MBA, director of workforce development and job readiness for UMB’s OCE, comes in. Every Wednesday, anyone needing help finding employment can walk in to the CEC or make an appointment between 2 and 5 p.m. Rawlings, a staff member from the Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, and someone from UMB’s Human Resource Services department are on hand to help with online job searches and job training resources and to assist in building a resume.
“LinkedIn says that 75 percent or more people get jobs today through people they know. We want to be that person for our community members,” Rawlings said. “I want the University and the hospital (University of Maryland Medical Center) to know that we have neighbors who have lots of skills who can be real assets to our organizations. Their biggest fault is they don’t know anyone here.”
UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, has made community engagement one of the University’s priorities and opened the CEC in 2015 to be UMB’s “front door” to the community. Workforce development is one of the main focuses and includes the Wednesday sessions along with recruitment open houses, career training programs, and initiatives for youth.
So far, nearly 300 people have taken advantage of Workforce Wednesday. Nearly 40 have found jobs — 13 at UMB or the University of Maryland Medical Center. Another two were hired by UMB through Humanim, a Baltimore nonprofit that supports and empowers individuals faced with social or economic challenges.
UMB’s OCE, along with other community partners, helped create the rigorous Administrative Assistant Training program offered through Humanim. The University also works to recruit participants and facilitate the hiring of those who complete it.
Shakiara Seals got her job as an office clerk in UMB’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety after taking the administrative assistant training course through Humanim.
Seals, who had been working in retail and taking college courses in the summer, wanted an administrative job, but most required four to five years’ experience, she said. Her mother told her about the 10-week Humanim course, which was just the push she needed. Seals graduated with a PACE certificate (Professional Administrative Certificate of Excellence) and the connections that landed her a part-time job at Towson University and, eventually, the full-time job at UMB.
She credits Humanim for getting her where she is today, not quite a full year later.
“In Baltimore City, it’s hard to branch out in certain work fields. It’s easier to find labor jobs than assistant jobs,” explained the East Baltimore resident and mother of a 5-year-old. “It took a team for me to succeed.”
Antoinette Shannon, Seals’ supervisor, and Ken Brenneman, who works with Seals, said they interviewed six candidates for the office clerk position and the top two were graduates of Humanim.
“They really impressed us,” Brenneman said. “They had the skills to do the job. Humanim prepared them for success.”
And they couldn’t be happier with Seals’ performance.
“She came in willing to take the lead on projects,” Shannon said. “And she works so efficiently and effectively.”
“She goes above and beyond her clerk duties,” Brenneman added. “She came into an entry-level position and within a year we have her doing professional-level work.”
Now that they have steady jobs here at UMB, Harris and Seals hope to finish their degrees — Harris in human services and Seals in business administration. Both say they want to help others the way they were helped. Harris is still thankful to Rawlings for helping her get the position.
“It changed my whole mindset,” she said. “It changed my goals.”
Rawlings hopes to help even more community members in the future. Aside from Workforce Wednesday, two information sessions on jobs at UMMC are being held at the CEC this month. A session on food service positions will be held March 21 at 1 p.m. and a session on environmental services such as housekeepers, room attendants, and waste attendants will be held March 28 at 1 p.m. For details, call 410-706-8260 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.