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'Digital literacy' partnership opens doors for low-income residents

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By Sheila Cain

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Barbara “B.G.” Nabors-Glass, vice president of job training and education at Seattle Goodwill, understands the difficulties students of Goodwill's job training program face.

When Barbara “B.G.” Nabors-Glass interacts with the students in Goodwill’s job training program, she understands first-hand the difficulties they face.

Years ago, as a young single mother holding down a job while going to law school, Nabors-Glass struggled to make ends meet. Receiving public assistance and able to afford only a small rental unit, she did the best she could to save money and support her daughter.

“One summer, we cooked all our food on a charcoal grill,” says Nabors-Glass, now the vice president of job training and education at Seattle Goodwill. “The power bill was only 35 cents. I was proud!”

She later worked for a nonprofit as an advocate for women on welfare, as well as with agencies that assisted residents in low-income housing. The lived and professional experience give a deep appreciation for the Goodwill job training programs she now helps develop and support.

“We make sure the people who walk through our doors get the very best services,” says Nabors-Glass. “If you come through the doors and are willing to do something for yourself, we’re ready to help.”

A Growing Program

Goodwill has long offered free job training and education to low-income residents throughout the Puget Sound region. A $100,000 grant from Comcast in 2013 enhanced the nonprofit’s outreach, funding a two-year Digital Literacy Program that covers the basics of internet usage and weaves technology into all of Goodwill’s job training classes.

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An instructor helps a student at one of Goodwill's training centers.

That program has covered instructor training and development of a curriculum that is offered throughout Goodwill’s nine training centers, where people ranging from recent immigrants and single parents to ex-offenders can take classes to improve their chances of finding a job. Goodwill students also have access to Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which offers low-cost, in-home internet connectivity and access to low-cost computers and software to qualifying households.

Now, Comcast is extending its influence beyond the classroom with even more far-reaching support. The global media and technology company has committed to interviewing graduates of the Goodwill training program and qualified candidates may be hired to work in Xfinity retail stores throughout the Puget Sound region.

“This was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up,” said Amy Lynch, region vice president for Comcast Washington. “This program takes our longstanding partnership with Goodwill to the next level. We recognize that there’s talent in our local communities. We always strive to link our business with opportunities in our region. It’s a win-win if these trainees become Comcast employees. And, frankly, we hope they all do.”

From Classroom to Workplace

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Students learning at one of Goodwill's nine training centers, which offer free job training and education to the poor and underprivileged.

Comcast’s enhancement of Goodwill’s existing program starts with customer service training in three of the nonprofit’s training centers, led by Comcast and Goodwill instructors. Comcast provides guest lecturers on topics ranging from interview tips to customer service. Comcast trainers are also on hand to conduct mock interviews and provide assistance with resumes.

Students have an opportunity to tour some of Comcast’s Xfinity retail stores. Once they complete the program, they’re invited to interview with members of Xfinity stores’ hiring teams.

The program is light on technical curriculum and heavy on customer service training.

“We’re looking for people who can provide the best customer care,” says Mark Brown, director of talent acquisition and talent management, for Comcast Washington. “The other things, we can teach.”

The Comcast/Goodwill employment program does not follow conventional hiring processes. There’s more intention to participants’ success and engagement during training, vetting, and onboarding. It’s an approach that Brown says both makes sense and is the right thing to do for economically disadvantaged individuals in our own backyard.

“This is example of Comcast’s desire to look outside the channels we normally use to find the best talent,” says Brown. “Talent really does exist everywhere.”

‘We all spend a lot of time getting to know them’

The students participating in the workforce training program would most likely have a difficult time finding their way to a job in an Xfinity store without this type of assistance. Seventy percent of Goodwill’s students live below the federal poverty line, and 30 percent have no high school diploma. For some, English is not their primary language. For others, life events such as homelessness, domestic violence or a prison sentence have created barriers that have made education and job training difficult to achieve.

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An Xfinity employee shows a customer the features of a new cell phone.

The program allows the Comcast trainers to get to know the students well before any job interview. Goodwill instructors, who have worked closely with the students for months, help facilitate those relationships.

That connection between student and potential employer is invaluable, says Goodwill’s Nabors-Glass, because it allows the students to better vie for jobs in an often-competitive environment.

“It’s relational, not just transactional,” she says. “It’s good for our students to see a big company like Comcast care about them getting a job.”

Corporate Support

Training begins this month and will serve an estimated 90 students across three cohorts, wrapping up in late July. Goodwill expects at least 60 percent of the students that complete the program will move forward to interviews with Comcast. Xfinity stores in Seattle, Bremerton and Everett (those closest to the three participating Goodwill training centers) will likely be the first stores to look to hire for retail and customer service positions, although other Xfinity stores throughout the Puget Sound area may also hire graduates.

The Washington office earmarked $25,000 to pilot the program locally, and a division office, intrigued by the program’s potential, pitched in an additional $25,000. Aspirational goals are to scale the program to other areas of Washington state and beyond.

While the program meets Goodwill’s mission of providing livable wage employment to its clients, it also fulfills Comcast’s larger community investment imperative: to provide a deeper connection between employees, customers and the community as a whole.

“When you provide jobs and opportunity, you provide independence,” says Brown. “That ripples throughout the community and builds momentum.”

 

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'Digital literacy' partnership opens doors for low-income residents