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JVS jobs strategy held up as model at White House forum

by abra cohen

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Last week’s jobs report released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a dismal picture of continued unemployment, but Abby Snay, longtime executive director of Jewish Vocational Service, remains hopeful.

Abby Snay at the White House  photo/courtesy jvs
Abby Snay at the White House photo/courtesy jvs
That’s because the nonprofit she runs in downtown San Francisco has been putting people back to work for years — so successfully, in fact, that she was invited to the White House last month to share her agency’s wisdom.

Snay took part in a Jan. 31 event hosted by President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden that addressed long-term unemployment across the country.

“It was very exciting, of course, to be at the White House,” Snay said last week during a brief visit home before heading back to D.C. the following morning for another jobs-growth meeting. “It was very heartening to hear the president talk about his commitment to restore opportunity to people.”

Founded in 1973 to help Bay Area Jewish college students find jobs, JVS has broadened its mission to serve people of all backgrounds and skill sets, many without high levels of education.

The White House briefing featured JVS’ partnership with UCSF Medical Center in a program known as EXCEL (Excellence Through Community Engagement and Learning). In place since 2010, it prepares participants for jobs in health care via classroom and on-the-job training.

Viewed as a leader in similar programs across the country, EXCEL was highlighted at the White House briefing.

The program starts with an eight-week training at the JVS office, followed by a four-month internship at UCSF where students put their new skills to work. The training covers customer service, relevant language and other skills specific to a medical office. The program’s participants range in age and life experience — from teenage moms who have never worked to adults who are changing job fields.

According to a UCSF study, 80 percent of the program’s graduates are now employed in the health care field and earn around $40,000 annually — statistics that make Snay proud. Because it is more of a welfare-to-work program, many of the graduates had no income when they started.

“I know our strategies at JVS can help others across the nation,” said Snay, who also chairs the National Skills Coalition, which works to increase the skills of American workers in different job sectors.

Long-term unemployment (defined as 27 weeks or longer by the Department of Labor) was the focus of the White House meeting; many job seekers who have been out of work a long time report that when they apply for jobs, they aren’t even able to land interviews.

“Research has been done where people send out resumes with the same exact experience, except for the length of unemployment,” Snay says, “and the resumes from people who have been unemployed for a long time get thrown in the garbage.”

At the White House, Snay attended a CEO roundtable breakfast with other participants, including corporate, nonprofit and political leaders, where the president talked about strategies for recruiting and hiring workers who have been out of the workforce.

Snay says that working on the policy level is a critical part of JVS’ effectiveness. “Working to help shape policy from federal, state and local levels allows us to increase our impact even further,” she said.

In addition to the White House roundtable, Snay also was invited to talk with the vice president and 15 people from public and private employment providers. After the meeting, Snay says the very gregarious vice president chatted her up about his daughter, who recently married a Jewish doctor in a joint Jewish-Catholic wedding.

After telling Snay about the chuppah, ketubah and crushing of the glass, Biden explained, “Everyone thinks it’s Jewish parents who want their daughters to marry surgeons, but Catholic parents do, too!”


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