Flying Fig restaurant owner and chef Karen Small know all too well the perils of posting job openings on Craigslist or other websites. In many cases, those postings lead to a lot of interviewing and not much hiring.
“It’s kind of a nightmare to absorb that kind of time and not get anything out of it,” said Small, whose modest eatery is nestled on Market Avenue in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood.
However, about a year ago, she got a call from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cleveland offering up a pre-screened worker and a promise to cover 50% of that person’s hourly wages during the training period. The offer was part of a pilot program the nonprofit launched to provide more opportunities in the culinary industry for Northeast Ohio’s unemployed poor who want to work but lack experience or job-training accessibility.
Now, the SVDP is expanding the program into additional areas, including nursing homes and hotels, to allow more businesses to find entry-level, hourly workers who have received some training and shown a willingness to work hard. At present, they said it can afford to subsidize the wages of three to five trainees simultaneously, though that number could increase as interest grows.
“As we get to know these people, we know they’re hardworking individuals who just need a break,” said John Litten, executive director of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cleveland. “We’ve been able to do this with this small pilot program and been able to connect people with employers and the training they need to give them that second chance.” The program brought to Flying Fig Luisa Lopez — a native of Lorain County who had worked as a home health aide but was looking for a career change.
Lopez had searched for a job for just less than a year before she was referred to the program. After being screened, Lopez trained for 10 weeks at Small’s eatery.
Training can be an expensive process, and Small said she liked that the SVDP covered half the cost. She was impressed with Lopez’s work ethic and ultimately brought her on as a part-time employee working 30 to 35 hours a week.
“She became part of the family quite quickly,” Small said. Litten said the program is the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Cleveland’s first foray into job training. For almost 150 years, the they have provided emergency assistance to those in need, so Litten said the job-training program was a natural extension of the group’s mission.
Those participating in the program must be motivated, physically and mentally capable of doing the work, have some level of literacy, not have a violent felony conviction and may not hold a college degree. “There’s a need for someone to offer a hand and pull people up out of the ditch,” Litten said. “This is a way for us to look more systemic at things. We can help teach a person to fish instead of just giving them the fish.”
Grovewood Tavern on the city’s East Side contacted the nonprofit after a dishwasher it had hired didn’t work out. The program brought the restaurant Solomon Rallings, whom Beth Davis-Noragon — the restaurant’s managing partner — said is always cheerful and does whatever needs done. She liked the training program because if Rallings didn’t work out, she could have the nonprofit feed them another trainee.
Thankfully, she said Rallings turned out to be a great employee, and she’ll go back to the nonprofit when she needs another employee. “He’s a great guy, and he comes to work on time,” Davis-Noragon said. “He’s just so happy to have a job.” The organization isn’t characterizing the job-training initiative as a placement program or referral service. Instead, the group’s leaders say it is designed to pave the way for future employment for trainees who go through the program. Those who complete the program are awarded a certificate verifying they’ve earned real-life work experience.
Still, that didn’t stop Lopez from getting scooped up by Flying Fig. “Within a week of finding out about the program, I was working here and been working here ever since,” she said. “It opened a door that wasn’t there.”