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A Maryland nonprofit’s quest to bridge the gap between job seekers and employers

By Grace Lee
June 30, 2022

Group of individuals standing in front of a bus
Graduates of Maryland New Direction’s Commercial Transportation Careers program.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed multiple cracks in our society’s infrastructure. And over the past two years, those of us in the nonprofit sector who are committed to workforce development have seen the divide between job seekers and employers grow even wider.

Maryland New Directions has helped motivate men and women in the greater Baltimore area find new career opportunities for nearly 50 years. We serve as the conduit between those looking for work and those needing to hire. But more than two years into this pandemic, for-profit and nonprofit employers alike are struggling to fill empty positions, proving that we still have much work to do.

There’s a dialogue out there that people are less willing to work today than they were before March 2020, but that isn’t our experience. From our perspective, it isn’t people’s willingness to work that has changed; it’s what they are willing to work for.

The landscape of workforce development today poses many challenges, but it also presents many opportunities. Here are four areas we’re focusing on that have the potential to create lasting, positive change for the workforce—and that may help your organization meet your own hiring needs.

  1. Educating employers on creating more appealing job opportunities – Today’s job seeker wants higher wages, more benefits, safer and more comfortable working conditions, and won’t settle for less. And we agree with them! Everyone deserves to feel safe and appreciated at their workplace, and everyone deserves a living wage and benefits that allow them to take care of their families. Today, with so many employers struggling to fill open positions, we’re finding that more are willing to reevaluate what they can offer to make their opportunities more appealing. Not all businesses can afford to pay hourly wages that compete with large companies, but they can offer signing bonuses, or come up with other creative perks and benefits to inspire people to want to work for them.
  2. Educating job seekers on the importance of building their skills – While job seekers might have more negotiating power, they still need to understand the position employers are in. The hard truth is many companies can’t afford to pay higher wages without getting more productivity from their workforce. And that’s why it’s still important for job seekers to continue building their skills. We tell each client to invest in their own personal “brand” by building up their skillset with experience and credentials that will appeal to employers. Even with so many positions available, to find the right salary and work environment job seekers still need to make sure they have a strong personal brand.
  3. Helping more returning citizens find work – A large part of our work is helping our clients overcome their employment barriers, and that includes returning citizens, or people with criminal backgrounds. For employers who are struggling to fill open positions—and especially those who can’t increase wages/benefits or make changes to their work environments—we strongly encourage them to relax their hiring restrictions and consider hiring returning citizens. And we’re finding that with education and awareness, more employers are open to this on a case-by-case basis. This is wonderful news for these individuals who are eager to turn their lives around—and who we often find turn out to be incredibly dependable and loyal employees.
  4. Getting young workers on career paths – One of the biggest challenges we’re still trying to solve is how to get more young adults on a career path early. Many employers still have a stigma against hiring youth, as they have a higher incidence of walking off the job or just not showing up. We know how important employment is—especially in cities like Baltimore—to keeping young adults on a positive life path, and we are working hard to match these individuals with opportunities that motivate them now and in the long run.

The biggest lesson we’ve learned over the past few years is that to stay relevant in workforce development, we need to continuously evolve. In addition to conceiving new methods and technologies to deliver our services, we are in constant communication with local employers, asking them what they need and want to see from candidates.

Workforce development will continue to play a critical role in our economy and community’s recovery. Maryland New Directions is seizing the opportunities presented by the pandemic to re-imagine hiring practices and conditions to contribute to a stronger economy.


About Maryland New Directions

Maryland New Directions is an award-winning non-profit organization providing no-cost employment coaching and specialized career training to people in and around Baltimore City. Established in 1973, Maryland New Directions works with more than 300 motivated men and women each year, many of whom face barriers to employment, to help them secure a job, advance with their current employer, or establish a new career. The organization currently offers three programs providing industry-specific training and certifications, along with supportive services including hard and soft skills development, job coaching, career planning, and individual counseling. With its holistic approach, dedicated staff, and trusted partnerships with local employers, Maryland New Directions creates opportunities for each client to earn a living wage and begin a new long-term career. For more information, please visit mdnewdirections.org.

Tags: Education; Nonprofits and the economy; Equity