Economic Mobility Through FareStart’s Employment Partnerships
FareStart believes that every individual deserves the opportunity to thrive in an equitable and just world. We remain committed to anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). FareStart is taking steps in all areas of the organization to ensure our culture reflects these values and that we are working to advocate for positive change in the communities we serve.
We caught up with our employment coordinator, Oriana (she,her), to take a deeper look into how FareStart fosters relationships between our adult and youth programs graduates and employment partners to help create pathways toward personal stability and economic mobility.
Q: What are the barriers to employment that exist for FareStart students and graduates?
A: Every individual who comes to FareStart has different experiences and backgrounds. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize barriers because everyone handles situations differently. With that being said, we do see commonalities in students who come to FareStart, like feelings of hopelessness, having low self-confidence, dealing with trauma and seeking guidance on how to best position themselves when looking for employment. Our students have a wide array of past experiences which can include poverty, homelessness, abuse, substance use disorder, incarceration, employment gaps or a lack of employment history. These barriers make it difficult for FareStart graduates reentering the workforce and even more challenging to find their place in society.
When coming to FareStart, some students are in active or early recovery. Going through a training program while navigating other areas of life can be overwhelming, especially while trying to develop new skills and learn self-empowerment. Students come to FareStart looking for structure and to build their skillset to qualify for good jobs. FareStart offers our students training, tools and support services to assist them in finding stability and gaining the skills they need to find a job that aligns with their values.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the entire employment population is experiencing barriers. Barriers to employment can affects individuals and companies alike.
Q: What would DEI-focused employment partnership look like?
A: Since 2018, FareStart has been on its DEI journey in earnest and has been looking to partner with like-minded organizations. We look for employer partners that are inclusive, are employee-centric and understand the importance in celebrating diversity and creating a sense of belonging. From there, we dive further into each organization to see if they have committed DEI practices or are establishing policies that provide employee support and opportunities for upward mobility.
It is important to note that enacting company DEI policies is a process that takes time and is always evolving. FareStart does not disqualify partnerships if they do not have formal DEI policies already in place, we also look at the company’s vision, values, work environment and how they support our communities. It is important to partner with companies that support their workers, in turn supporting FareStart graduates.
Q: Do FareStart’s employment partnerships have an impact on economic mobility?
A: Absolutely. Economic mobility is the main drive to finding employers who offer a pathway toward livable wages, benefits, promote from within, encourage workforce development and have development plans for each employee to progress in the company. This model goes further than making sure workers’ basic needs are being met.
It benefits the employee’s family, builds their employee’s skills and invests in the community. This allows the employee to truly gain stability and begin to thrive, which is something our students have been waiting for and some have never had the chance to experience it.
Q: What does our process look like for establishing employment partnerships?
A: FareStart is well known in the community and about half of our partnerships begin with organizations reaching out to us. Our initial conversations usually begin with asking what the company is looking for, what their hiring requirements are, learning about their organizational culture and their community footprint. We have an employer questionnaire, which helps us better understand their hiring needs, hiring process and the exact qualifications they are looking for in a candidate.
Honest, open communication is key in these conversations. It is important to find employment partners who support and understand who FareStart is and that our graduates may have barriers that will take time to work through, but they can be successful in a place that fosters a positive and supportive work environment.
Q: Can you share the process for FareStart graduates getting employed by our employment partners?
A: Although we work with employers and students to understand hiring and employment goals, and ultimately help facilitate a good match, FareStart is not a staffing agency. FareStart provides support for each student through practice interviews that hone their interview skills, as well as teaching classes for resume building and cover letter writing. In these classes, staff and volunteers review the student’s materials and provide honest feedback. These classes give FareStart students the encouragement and self-confidence to apply for jobs.
FareStart empowers the student and employer to make the connection. We partner with companies that are hiring from diverse candidate pools and refer our students and graduates to their job postings. FareStart captures job leads from partner organizations and informs the student of any openings they are qualified for and seem like a potential good fit according to their employment goals. It is the graduate’s responsibility to apply, go through the hiring process and get a job offer. FareStart is there to support our students and graduates, and we give them the tools they need to succeed. Our students understand that they have full autonomy of deciding where they want to apply. We also stay in close communication with our students after graduation so we can continue to receive feedback and updates in their new positions.
Q: How does diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) impact FareStart graduates and our employment partners?
A: FareStart graduates know the importance of DEI through our training curriculum. We teach our students the importance of celebrating diversity and looking for job openings at companies whose values align with their own. Our trainers encourage students to look at a company’s website, their press releases to learn more about their values, what they stand for, what their involvement with the community is, if see themselves represented, whether they are supporting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color)-owned businesses and are acting in support of their values. It is important to know how the company is taking action to help sustain their values. FareStart validates our values through our mantra, “We don’t just talk about it. We be about it.” This means that we take action to support the values we say we have.
Since mid-2020, I have seen employers being more intentional about hiring a diverse workforce and finding ways to increase their pool of applicants. In some instances, they are reaching out to us as part of their new approach in becoming closer to the community and to organizations that work closely with those communities that they were not able to reach in the past.
Q: How do FareStart students gather information about a company’s values and DEI practices?
A: We invite partner organizations (in-person pre-COVID-19 and virtually since) to come speak with our students and share their company’s values, DEI practices, how the company supports their community and the skills they are looking look for in new hires. Throughout our program, we encourage students seeking employment post-graduation to research companies we know are hiring and values align with their own. Our trainers explain the importance of having questions ready for employers during the interview process, it is a two-way conversation and a mutual agreement; the candidate is evaluating the employer as much as the employer is evaluating the candidate. Questions do not only revolve around the role, but also about what the company is working on, what their vision is, their values and how are they demonstrated in business procedures or day-to-day operations. This asks the graduate why they want to work at that company and informs the employer they are invested in long-term employment.
Q: How does FareStart see our employment partnerships evolving in the future?
A: Personally, I would like to see more organizations reviewing their internal hiring practices and expanding their recruiting efforts to reach a more diverse pool of candidates. I also would love to see partners take a close individual look at who our graduates are now - the values and skills they will bring to the company - rather than creating a picture of who they were based on their background. FareStart believes, “Your past does not dictate your future.” I have seen graduates who are fearful of applying to jobs that run background checks and thinking past experiences and barriers will disqualify them even though they may qualify for the role and have plenty of experience for it. Sometimes the fear of rejection gets the best of them.
FareStart is hopeful to see more DEI policies and procedures set in place. DEI work is an ever-changing process, and we are excited to see FareStart and our partner organizations grow in this realm.
FareStart programs paused in March 2020 due to the pandemic and resumed virtually in September 2020. Throughout 2020, 138 individuals enrolled in FareStart employment and job training programs. Seventy-five percent of adult graduates obtained job placements within 90-days of graduation. Our employment coordinator has helped make job connections for our graduates in restaurants, high volume food production (frozen and ready to-eat meals), facility and building services, retirements centers, painting and property services and others.