In 2010, Robert Muir was the chief financial officer for a Salt Lake City data processing company. He enjoyed his work and performed well, often putting in long hours to ensure critical information was available. But when the company was sold unexpectedly, Muir found himself without a job. “It came as a complete surprise,” Muir, the father of four children, said of the sale of the company and his subsequent termination.
Muir eventually found his way to one of LDS Employment Resource Services’ employment centers in Salt Lake City, Utah, where he gained new skills, clarified his professional goals and found a new position.
LDS Employment Resource Services of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offers multifaceted support to individuals in need of work. As part of those services, the Church operates 117 employment resource centers that provide training, networking, hands-on experience and encouragement to job seekers. They are associated with Church-owned thrift store Deseret Industries facilities in the western United States, and in meetinghouses or office buildings throughout the U.S. and Canada. In participating countries throughout the world, the employment programs have recently partnered with the Church’s Perpetual Education Fund, an educational loan program. The administrative pairing of these programs offers both opportunities for vocational training and job placement to eligible participants.
Muir reluctantly followed through on one of the strategies he learned at Employment Resource Services. “I’d been taught to write personal thank you notes, but the thought of acknowledging 25 different people throughout a day-long series of interviews seemed too much,” he said. “But I did it. The extra effort kept me in touch with that employer and eventually resulted in my job offer. It’s the little things you learn that really make a difference.”
“Someone without adequate employment turns his life upside-down,” explains Scott Buie, a local Church leader in Salt Lake City who serves as the employment services agent administrator over 28 stakes (similar to dioceses). “[That] challenge is one of the most difficult in life and has significant and far-reaching effects.”
“The employment program is all about providing hope,” explains Rick Ebert, the director of Deseret Industries and administrator of the program. “We apply the example of Jesus Christ to reach out to those in need and lend support to their personal efforts. The demand for such services has increased dramatically in the past several years, but we were able to help more than 100,000 people around the world find work in 2012.”
Since the early days of the Church, members have worked to assist others in their search for employment, both formally and informally. In the early 1900s, the Presiding Bishopric, which oversees the physical and material needs of Church members, organized a program called the Deseret Employment Bureau that operated intermittently until the Church-wide welfare program was established in 1936.
Help from LDS Employment Resource Services comes in a variety of ways, including career or self-employment workshops, professional placement programs and networking and job leads. Job seekers vary widely in educational and skill set backgrounds, but each receives personal attention to their individual needs.
Meeting Individual Needs
Applicants need not be members of the Church to avail themselves of services, but all job seekers work through a local bishop (lay leader of a congregation). In his role as the leader of the congregation, the bishop monitors the employment needs of its members. Supported by the leader of the Relief Society, the women’s organization, and a volunteer employment representative in the congregation, the bishop can serve as a link between the job seeker and LDS Employment Resource Services.
“We help people wherever they are,” says Christy Peterson, associate manager at the Sugarhouse Employment Resource Center in Salt Lake City. “We listen very carefully to assess their skills, abilities and needs. Once those are defined, we broaden the discussion to their interests, hopes and dreams. We gather all this information together to help develop an in-depth plan of action to help find the right job for each candidate.”
For Angelia Call, LDS Employment Resource Services provided exceptional support when she was left alone to raise two children. “I had given up and didn’t know where to turn when my dad suggested I contact Christy at the Sugarhouse employment center," she said. "Before I knew it, the service missionaries organized ‘Team Angie,’ a group that trained and tracked everything I did at the center. I had a lot of work experience but not much education, so they helped me revise my resume to emphasize my skills. Within six weeks, I was trained, I interviewed and I have a great job in a positive workplace. ‘Team Angie’ helped me feel hope again. I can now buy our groceries, pay for the house and even take my kids to a movie once in a while.”
Individual plans guide applicants through a curriculum focused on goal setting, networking, resume writing and interviewing. Participants learn a technique called “Me in 30 Seconds,” a concise personal description to present to prospective employers. They practice negotiation skills, devise a job search strategy and review that plan with a job coach twice a week.
Some applicants are given opportunities to learn additional workplace skills at Deseret Industries, according to Ben Maradiaga, Sugarhouse store manager. “Sometimes these skills are very small steps — simply being to work on time or actually showing up to work every day. We help them set goals, tasks they can accomplish to gain confidence in their abilities. We coordinate with local Church leaders to inform them about their people. Our goal, and that of their Church leader, is to help them succeed, to feel good about themselves, and to help them make positive changes in their lives.”
Some applicants come to LDS Employment Resource Services discouraged and downtrodden, says Evan Bush, the development specialist at the Sugarhouse employment center. “They come with limitations or barriers to regular employment; they lack work experience or work skills or they speak another language,” he said.
A medical disability prevented Vivian Sapkin, a native of Brazil and single mother of two, from returning to an airline job. Vivian noticed doors opening for her as soon as her bishop recommended her for employment assistance.
“Sister Renee Adams, a volunteer employment adviser, helped me immediately,” Vivian reports. Vivian was able to get a job at Deseret Industries. “I had income while I was reevaluating my life and career goals," she said. “Now I have a grant to attend radiology school at Salt Lake Community College, and I’ll still be able to work here while I get the training.”
Vivian’s circumstance is typical of the many associates who find assistance at LDS Employment Resource Services.
“We customize their training here,” said Bush. “Even the most challenging cases generally complete their training and find employment within a year.”
Peterson, Maradiaga and Bush work on staff in the Welfare Services Department of the Church, but the bulk of the hands-on approach comes through the efforts of Church service missionaries. At the Sugarhouse employment center, more than 40 volunteer missionaries serve one or more days each week and assume responsibility for specific individuals. The missionaries range in age from 19 to 84, and come from all walks of life and varied professions. They perform the one-on-one tasks that encourage and train the job seeker. Service missionaries staff employment centers across the country; some are called to serve full-time and others serve on a part-time basis.
Sister Jerry Matheson, a volunteer employment adviser, comes to the employment resource center every day. After a successful career as an executive assistant, she knows the value of listening to catch the details of individual circumstances. “It’s a steep learning curve to master all the curriculum here, but our ‘can do’ attitude fills in when we don’t find every answer,” she said. “I keep asking questions and listen, and then people feel I am here to help. They say, ‘We know you care about us; we feel something different here.’”
LDS Employment Resource Services thrives on the combined efforts of many individuals working toward the same goal: “We help people get jobs,” says Peterson. “We help them find a way to get back on their feet, back to supporting their families and back to the ability to fully take care of themselves.”