Employment Support: An Essential Service During an Economic Crisis
Guadalupe Diaz, Employment Specialist, started at Children’s Institute in June to work with individuals and parents in Watts seeking employment support. While the economic crisis from COVID-19 has hit communities across Los Angeles, it has especially impacted Black and Latino families in South LA. Diaz supports residents who are currently unemployed or want help moving into a more sustainable career. While new to CII, Diaz is a Watts native with experience supporting populations with employment needs.
What are your focus areas when working with clients?
It really depends on the individual as everyone is at a different place in his/her career. Broadly, I help with resume writing, practicing mock interviews and educating job seekers on certifications that may make them stronger candidates. For those with criminally involved backgrounds, I let them know their rights when it comes to hiring.
My main focus is to build self-confidence so candidates believe in themselves. This is a big part of the hiring process and it’s important that they see themselves as hirable and qualified.
Why do you think this work is important?
I think sometimes people get overwhelmed with the employment process. People need somebody to give them encouragement and help finding job openings. It’s not about doing it all for them, but having someone guide the process increases the chances of landing a job.
I also grew up in Watts and believe this is a very special community. In the past, there have been agencies or companies that make promises, but don’t deliver. I want my role to be about following through since CII has the ability to hire. Watts has so much to offer and there are so many amazing people.
What it is about your background that makes you well-suited for this role?
I started as an advocate in sexual assault and moved over to working with domestic violence victims. I then worked with formerly incarcerated individuals who mostly lived in Watts to help them transition back into the community, which included employment support.
The process of finding employment for individuals or parents who are trying to get back into the workforce is similar to working with formerly incarcerated individuals. There are certain tricks and tools that can make a major difference, which is very valuable to people in our communities.
What are the central responsibilities of your role?
I have two projects at CII – the first is working with parents in our Community Schools, which is an initiative where CII supports an entire school or preschool community with services for students, their families, teachers and administrators. I am connected with three schools in Watts where I will be helping parents find employment.
The second project is working to identify local hires for our new Frank Gehry-designed Watts Campus. The site is currently under construction, which means our contractors are hiring for a number of positions like electricians or plumbers. The campus will be part of the community when it is completed so it is important that people from the community be part of its construction. To date, we have hired six individuals from the community to work on the project, and we’re hoping to see that number grow.
What does the process look like?
I meet with candidates to understand what they want when it comes to employment. When I have a good feel for where they want to be and what skills they’ll need to get there, I reach out to potential employers on their behalf. I have existing partnerships with a number of employers so I have access to a network that wouldn’t normally be available to them. If a parent comes to me and says they want to work in a tire shop, I know a number of tire shops owners in the area and understand what they are usually looking for in candidates.
As I mentioned, I then prepare them for applying and a potential interview. This includes making sure they have professional clothes for an interview or work boots if they get hired for the Watts Campus construction.
And once they find employment and get hired, I follow up with them to see how things are going. This relationship doesn’t stop once someone gets a job. We want them to succeed in that career.
How do you support someone who contacts you for employment support, but may benefit from other CII services?
I will connect them to the appropriate CII program depending on where they need assistance. If it is a father wanting support with parenting, then I will connect him with the Project Fatherhood. If a client is seeking counseling then I refer them to our counseling department. When an individual shares with me that they are in need of an essential item like diapers, we make arrangements for the client to obtain those items from one of our sites.
Are there any success stories you would like to share?
A long-time Watts resident named Raymond had been on our list of local hires. He was a strong candidate who showed great determination, persistence and consistency so he was hired as a supervisor’s assistant for our Frank Gehry-designed Watts Campus. Since working onsite for more than a month, Raymond said he is happy and grateful to have this opportunity. He has a very positive outlook and reports to work every day with an attitude of giving his best.