Local Goodwill affiliate adapts job training programs for changing economy


James Whiting works as an unarmed security guard for Securitas at an office building in Arlington. He got this job with help from a new job training program at Goodwill of Greater Washington. (Jeffrey MacMillan/JEFFREY MACMILLAN FOR CAPITAL BUSINESS)
December 30, 2012

Goodwill of Greater Washington has long been focused on job training and placement for low-income individuals.

But this year, as the economic recovery has inched forward and the region’s hiring landscape has continued to change, the District-based nonprofit has shaken up its workforce development offerings to more closely align with demand in the regional job market.

“We really try to focus on programs that are sustainable and that are in high-growth industries,” said Brendan Hurley, the organization’s chief marketing officer.

With that goal in mind, Goodwill started two free training programs this year: One for unarmed security guards and protective service providers, and another for hospitality industry workers.

Colleen Paletta, vice president of workforce development, said she developed these programs based in part on job-growth data, but also on what she was hearing from local employers.

In these fields, “there are lots of entry-level opportunities and opportunities to advance,” Paletta said. “And there’s a low barrier to entry,” meaning that advanced education is not required.

Security training

The security guard program is five weeks long. Instructors from security contractor AlliedBarton provide training in the skills needed to do the job, while instructors from Goodwill teach general employability topics, such as how to perform well in a job interview.

Alexandria resident James Whiting completed the security guard training earlier this year and was able to land a job with Securitas Security Services in September. He now works as a guard at an office building in Arlington.

Compared to his previous job at fast-food eatery Boston Market, Whiting said he is making more money and feels that he has a clearer career path.

“I honestly did it because there’s more options,” Whiting said.

Whiting said he appreciated that the training was offered free of cost, unlike many other credentialing or education courses.

“I’ve been telling everybody about it, telling everybody to go,” Whiting said.

Goodwill’s hospitality program is geared toward District residents and specifically aims to prepare them to work in the city’s hotels. It is twice as long as the security guard program and includes a similar mix of instruction in industry-specific skills and general employability matters. The classes in this program start at 7 a.m., and trainees can only receive a stipend to cover their transportation costs if they arrive to each session on time.

“We try to simulate the [hospitality] industry as much as we can,” Paletta said.

For completing either program, trainees are able to receive credits from Northern Virginia Community College. This means that in addition to helping them find work, the program can help participants get started on furthering their education.

Changing job demands

Before the financial crisis of 2008, Goodwill had a robust program for training people to be bank tellers. Twenty local banks participated in it, and it had a 90 percent job placement rate. Suddenly, though, when stock markets crashed, demand dried up in the Washington area for these entry-level workers. Goodwill put that program on hold and looked for other opportunities for low-skill workers.

Its training program for construction workers was weakened around the same time, as demand for new buildings dwindled because of the burst of the housing bubble. At first, Goodwill tried to modify the program, adding weatherization, smart-meter installation and green certifications to its line-up in hope that those specialty skills would lead to more job placement. But now, as the housing market remains tepid, Goodwill has put that program on hiatus.

“As the economy continues to change, our goal, obviously, is to change with the market conditions,” Hurley said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economics news.
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