Overcoming Barriers to Employment

Conquering Obstacles in the Path Toward Getting a Job

For many job seekers, getting a job is not simply a matter of finding the right position. Barriers to employment can make looking for a job akin to running an obstacle course. Barriers can be logistical, such as scheduling issues, child care needs, or lack of transportation. They can be also be barriers that deny an applicant access from employers completely – things like a criminal record, lack of education, or glaring work history gaps.

Unless job seekers can prove these barriers can be overcome, usually through job experience, the cycle can be hard, dimming the job seeker’s prospects. And, when applicants are eliminated from the labor force, employers lose workers who can be productive members of their company as well.

Challenged Job Seekers Turn to Staffing Companies

Reputable staffing companies are in the business of helping turn job seekers into workers, even if they have challenging resumes.  “We want to make sure the fit is right, both for the applicant and the employer,” said Mandy Wertman, Human Resources Representative at BONNEY Staffing Center. Marketing an excellent candidate to a client, regardless of their challenges, benefits both parties, she said.

With their large network of clients, staffing companies can tap employers that offer alternative shifts and flexibility, for example – eliminating barriers for those with child care, transportation, or scheduling issues. They can also help job seekers communicate aspects of job history and experience in a way that employers will be receptive to. In addition to providing diverse hiring options, staffing companies also have the benefit of the worker—Staffing Supervisor relationship. Staffing Supervisors can serve as invaluable mentors to job seekers with hiring challenges, supporting them on the job and as their experience progresses.

For workers who have more challenging barriers such as skills deficits or work history gaps – even criminal records – good staffing companies can provide life-changing support to job seekers who feel like they are treading water in today’s job market.

Skills or Education Deficits. It’s a well-known employment trap: a worker who lacks job skills can’t get a job without them.  A good staffing company will work hard to evaluate each applicant individually, identifying strengths based on work and life experience. These strengths might fill in for any skills gaps.  Does the job seeker have experience that could translate to another field of work?  Are they an excellent candidate who lacks certain computer skills?  An applicant can be directed toward the appropriate tutorials or training material before being marketed to a client, increasing their chances of getting hired.

After a careful assessment, a good Staffing Supervisor will be able to communicate an applicant’s strengths to clients and help the applicant prepare to communicate them as well. Other skills-building options include on-the-job training, which not only helps overcome a skills barrier, but can eliminate it completely. Some employers in Maine and New Hampshire provide on-the-job training, which helps them move workers into positions fast, satisfying a client’s immediate need for workers at the same time.

When it comes to education, staffing companies have the luxury of working with many different clients and knowing their education requirements.  Depending on the job opening, a client may require degrees or specific technical expertise. But for less-skilled positions, some employers will welcome good employees no matter their educational shortfalls, even supporting workers in completing their GEDs while on the job.

Employment Gaps. One of the most common barriers to employment is a gap in an applicant’s work history. Unexplained gaps can put job seekers at a major disadvantage, and for those with employment gaps due to illness, inability to find work, or personal reasons, it can seem impossible to get back on track.

Overcoming Employment Barriers: Essential Strategies for Job Seekers

Address the barrier. “Successful people don’t let their roadblocks stop them; they turn them into assets,” said BONNEY Staffing Center’s Sarah Joy. That means meeting job challenges head on. Volunteer to help fill employment gaps, or find training to fill skills deficits. Career centers and staffing agencies can direct you to resources for help with scheduling and transportation issues, and they’ll work with you to help you address issues such as criminal records or disabilities.
Communicate. Get help communicating the nature of the barrier so you are prepared to address it in a conversation with a potential employer. Career centers and staffing agencies are trained to help you clearly articulate challenges in your job history and demonstrate the efforts you’ve made to overcome them.
Be open-minded. “You have to be open,” said Joy, “You have to step back and say, ‘How do I retool?’” Sometimes that means doing whatever it takes, even if that means taking something that isn’t your dream job. Even small steps can get you back on track and make you feel like you’re moving toward your goal.
Be honest. Whether the barrier to employment is large or small, being honest when questions arise, either in person or on an application, is imperative. When a staffing specialist or employer knows your issues, they can help you address them.

The best way to overcome employment gaps is to address them head on. “Communication is key,” said Wertman. “We look at the whole employment history and take a holistic approach. If they have a solid work history before their most recent gap, that counts.  If they’ve been doing volunteer work, that will be taken into account.” If an applicant needs to build more or recent work history, Staffing Supervisors can provide resources for burnishing that history through volunteer work, referrals to their local Career Center, or accruing work experience through BONNEY’s S.W.A.T.  program that provides immediate short-term employees for employers with last minute or day-to-day needs.

Criminal History. At BONNEY Staffing Center, if a worker has a criminal conviction, they are not automatically turned away. BONNEY follows EEOC guidelines, and each BONNEY applicant receives an individualized assessment with regard to any criminal convictions.  With client consent, they will place individuals with a myriad of backgrounds. In many cases, employability depends on the offense. If an applicant has a theft conviction, they will not be able to work in a position handling money or in financial services, for example.

Personal & Professional Setbacks. One of the most challenging barriers for someone seeking a job can be a personal or career setback that wears away self-esteem and alters self-perception. “Self-perception can be a real stumbling block,” said BONNEY Staffing Center Portland Branch Manager Sarah Joy. Joy often sees job seekers who may be talented, but are frustrated because they are not where they want to be. “They may be timid, scared, not sure what to do next. They’ve lost their job, had some unexpected bad luck, had to take care of a sick family member, or had to relocate…they may feel defeated,” she said. “I want to help everyone see the opportunity available in any job opening they may be qualified for.”

Joy coaches individuals that fit into this category to keep an open mind about jobs that might provide a chance to lead them back up the professional ladder, even if the jobs are initially entry-level. She has seen many mended spirits in her career. She cites an applicant with a degree in Ecology who couldn’t find a job in her field. The applicant started building her career as a receptionist – at an environmental consulting firm. She was eventually hired and put her degree to use. Another applicant, a seasoned worker who enjoyed needlepoint, found she was equally suited to work in small-piece assembly.  An applicant who’d suffered a career setback took an entry-level Production job and worked his way up to Supervisor. Joy said if a worker is flexible, motivated, and willing to take a job that might not start out as their ideal position, they can often get back on track. “They can turn roadblocks into building blocks,” she said.

Turning Challenges Into Strengths

We all have unique experiences that make us who we are.  It is part of the mission of experienced staffing companies like BONNEY Staffing Center to help everyone who wants to find work get a job. If a Staffing Supervisor finds they simply can’t place a job seeker directly, they’ll suggest other resources. That can include Social Services, Career Centers that offer workshops and seminars and job training, local Chambers – even other staffing companies.

For job seekers, relying on an experienced Staffing Supervisor to serve as liaison to potential employers and a focus on solutions instead of barriers can make the difference between being “screened out” and being given an opportunity to demonstrate their strengths. In Maine and New Hampshire, where employers often express concerns about a thin labor pool, that can be a win-win for employers and employees alike.

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