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  How churches reach jobless  
  By Michael W. Michelsen, Jr.

AFTER Tom Burns, a Dallas-based marketing executive, went through the worry and stress of unemployment two years ago, he didn't forget what he experienced once he found a new job. Instead, as he reflected on the questions he wrestled with -- How will I feed my family? How will I make my house payment? -- he became determined to help others suddenly faced with the fallout of a job loss.

His determination turned into a ministry, 'Career Solutions', which he launched at his church, the First Baptist Church of Dallas.

Career Solutions serves as one primary example of dozens of ministry efforts and programs launching across the country. As the U.S. jobless rate surpasses 9 percent -- and some project 10 percent by the end of the year -- many church leaders see an increasing opportunity to minister to members and reach out to the community.

"As Christians, I believe it's our duty to do whatever we can for others, and offering these kinds of services to the growing numbers of people who find themselves needing them is important," says Beth Wheatley-Dyson, pastor of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Hanover, Massachusetts.

Unemployment in Massachusetts is at its highest point in at least 16 years. St. Andrew's started workshops teaching participants how to deal with the stress and stigma of unemployment and how to write resumés. The church also sponsors guest speakers, such as officials from the local U.S. Small Business Administration office, to discuss how individuals can start their own businesses.

In Modesto, California, where shrinking education budgets have delivered pink slips to teachers as well as school staffs, the First Baptist Church of Modesto has sought methods to respond in more meaningful ways.

"There are many in this area who have found themselves out of work or suffering from deep cutbacks in their work," says Wade Estes, senior pastor of said the church. "People have lost jobs in the local school districts and construction has really slowed down. As a result, we have seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of people making prayer requests for work, more work hours, for concerns over losing their homes and other issues. Fortunately, we have also seen God work to provide jobs to those who need them."

Taking the Lead

Boston-based career coach Kathy Robinson says churches are an excellent resource for a job search.

"Churches are made up of people, and the more you get to know, the more who know you are looking for a job, the better the chances are that you will find an employer," she says. "This is a new idea for churches, but when they draw on their resources to get knowledgeable people to give guidance, it can be a wonderful resource."
"Anyone is welcome to attend, but they had better be prepared to work, because fortunately, everyone who is there is employed full time in the job of getting a job."

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, says churches often miss a ministry opportunity.

"I'm not a career counselor, but I do know that as a pastor, churches are often, by their nature, very little help to the unemployed," he says. "Unfortunately, a church is often a place where someone with a need can get mixed into the crowd and go unnoticed. On the other hand, the church is also a body of people, people who can help each other when they know what their needs are.

At First Baptist, Jeffress says the church views its resources as a way to meet physical needs, not just spiritual ones.

"I think that if we seriously look at all of the people and programs that we have in a church, we can come up with some great ideas to help others with employment problems," he says.

For instance, First Baptist created a special page on its website that displays the resumés of job-seekers. In order to make the website more useful, the resource is actively promoted to the local community, especially through other area churches.

"I think that the secret is to make sure that the program doesn't turn into a job bank or a pity party," Jeffress adds. "Ours is a proactive approach that helps those who need jobs to find them, especially in the economic climate we are finding ourselves in today. Our program was started at our church about one year ago, and people started applying to take part almost immediately."

Tangible Results

Not long ago, Janet Russell and her husband Joel found themselves out of work at the same time. Soon after she lost her job, Janet heard about the Career Solutions program, which she credits with giving her the tools and confidence she needed to find a good job. In fact, it wasn't long before she brought her husband, as she says, "kicking and screaming" to the group meetings. He soon found the information of value as well.

"I think that looking for a job has got to be one of the loneliest things a person has to do," she says. "One day you're at work, doing what you do to be useful, having a paycheck, enjoying the social aspect of working, then the next you're out with nothing, and no idea where to go or who to talk to so you can get back into the work-a-day world."

Career Solutions meetings taught Janet and Joel how to create an effective resumé, and gave tips for interviews and salary negotiations. The program also covered related topics for job-seekers, such as cutting costs and living on a budget.

Like Career Solutions, many programs run by churches around the country provide specialized presentations by experts, and then often continue with networking opportunities and skills practice time.

"The Career Solutions program isn't a warm and fuzzy, touchy-feely kind of group," Janet says. "Anyone is welcome to attend, but they had better be prepared to work, because fortunately, everyone who is there is employed full time in the job of getting a job. We don't play games. The results speak for themselves."

Jeffress says that about half of the Career Solutions participants find work from the information provided in the sessions.

"To be honest, we've even hired several people from the program to work in our church," he says. "I like to think of the Career Solutions program as finding a job God's way."

Helping After the Hire

Some churches offer help to participants even after they land a job as a way to help them stay employed.

For instance, at the United Methodist Church in Milltown, N.J., member Bob Stewart runs a career development, planning, and counseling program.

"This program helps practically anybody, whether they have a job or not," he says. "It doesn't matter if you don't have a job -- it will teach you the skills once you do -- or, if you have one, it will help you keep it."

Stewart's course covers a variety of topics, including ways to deal with -- and manage -- a difficult boss, how to control and improve job security, the do's and don'ts that affect job security, and techniques for workers to "bulletproof" their jobs. A future session will focus on performance reviews, he says.

True Ministry

Church leaders say they want to help unemployed people find jobs. But they also say their programs keep true ministry at heart: to help those participants become better people, too.

"I consider our program to be one that is responding to a need," Jeffress adds. "I'm not an employment expert, but we have encouraged feedback from participants in the Career Solutions program to determine exactly what their needs are so we can tailor what we offer that better helps them. It's just a matter of asking ourselves, 'Who could best serve this need?' and going out to ask for their help with the program. We're still in the learning stage, but as we continue to offer the program, we will learn more how to help the participants better."

That makes any of the costs involved with operating the programs worth it, church leaders say, especially since the costs often are minimal.

"Sure, it costs us something to keep this program going," Jeffress explains. "We have to turn on the lights, and there are [other] costs, but those are minimal. When we know that people are leaving our church knowing that they have become more savvy in their efforts to find a job, that's a big reward. In these cases, we all win: the church, the job hunter, the community, we all win." (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
Michael Michelsen is a freelance writer living in California.
  Job scheme empowers women  
  By Ita Mehrotra

FOUNDED by Ramon Magsaysay Awardee Aruna Roy, Shankar Singh and Nikhil Dey, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) is a well-known social movement that began in Rajasthan in 1990. The successful enactment of the Rajasthan Right to Information Act and the national Right to Information Act 2005 has been attributed to the efforts of the MKSS.

It was also instrumental in helping to establish the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) that provides a legal guarantee for 100 days of employment in every financial year to adult members of any rural household willing to do public work-related unskilled manual work for a statutory minimum wage.

This summer I decided to join Roy and her team to understand first-hand this unique movement. During May and June 2009, we travelled to 10 villages -- from Devdungri, where the MKSS centre is located, to Vijaypura, Kadampuru, Tilonia, Peesagan and Arrai -- across the state, staying for a couple of days to a week in each and interacting with villagers working on NREGA sites. One of the first things I noted while visiting these sites was the overpowering dominance of women workers. About 90 per cent of the NREGA workers in the state are women of all ages: from 18 to 80!

Men still tend to migrate to other states, although migration has decreased drastically after the NREGA came into force. Prior to 2005 when the scheme was not in place, the Akal Raahat (Famine Relief) scheme would bring in about Rs 30 million (US$1=Rs 49.4) per gram panchayat (village council). The Akal Raahat (Famine Relief) scheme was a state-run scheme, with a minimum of Rs 60 per day wage. Here, unlike NREGA, there was no minimum days secured to the worker. Moreover, there were no redressal mechanisms in place -- workers were almost always underpaid or not paid at all.

Today, around Rs 100 million crore is delivered annually to gram panchayats specifically under the NREGA.

But how has NREGA helped women? When interacting with the women workers at a work site in Bhogadeet (Ajmer district), Manju, 30, provided the answer, "This work puts money directly into my hands. Now I can keep an account of where the money is spent and I can pay for my children's school fees. I don't have to wait for my husband to bring money home."

According to Aruna Roy, 63, it is women like Manju - rather than leaders like herself or any administrative body - who have worked and struggled towards the realisation of this Act that has transparency and minimum wages conditionalities.

Naurati Bai, 65, from Harmara village in Ajmer district, is one such outstanding individual, who has been a pillar of strength in the struggle in Rajasthan. Roy firmly believes that it is through the friendship of women like Naurati and through a relationship of learning that they have together been able to form a much larger movement. Recalls Roy, "Naurati, a Dalit (downtrodden caste), was mainly preoccupied with oppression and injustice. She was fearless. I met her when she first organised a strike for minimum wages in her village in 1981. Gifted with the ability to speak with power and determination, even from behind her 'ghunghat' (head-covering veil), she became first my initiator and later my comrade in the struggle against injustice," recalls Roy.

Today, Naurati has earned the respect of countless village people. An employee at an NREGA work site in Harmara, she speaks with strength and vigour when talking about how the movement for minimum wages started and how it was carried forward. No longer behind a 'ghunghat', one can see her animatedly recounting those early days and can understand why Roy credits women at the grassroots for their current empowerment.

Naurati has her store of recollections. "Initially, when we used to strike for minimum wages, there were major protests. We used to face stiff resistance from the panchayat. Slowly, it grew into a large movement and many women's groups formed in several villages. These groups started taking up all kinds of issues - dowry, sati and other crimes committed against women. They also started taking up economic issues like ration cards and non-payment or low payment of wages at famine relief work sites," she says.

A consequence of the large-scale economic empowerment - NREGA beneficiaries are meant to receive their cash income or income in the post bank accounts every fortnight - is new-found confidence among women. They even file complaints in cases of delayed payments now.

"There is a self-confidence that we women have got today, which you wouldn't have found 20 years ago. Today, we also talk louder - sometimes even louder than the men," smiles Naurati.

Recounting her journey through the struggle, which led to the generation of the Employment Guarantee Act, Roy says, "Over the years, I met many Nauratis... an endless list of courageous women who commit themselves to issues and action. Naurati took me on a journey in which we explored social realities in a new manner altogether. I was forced to learn different ways of talking, listening and responding to poor peoples' needs. But more basic was learning to face my own fears of public inquiry, of public criticism, of ridicule, of my timidity to engage in street politics."

Munni Devi, 70, of Mala village, reflects that in the absence of any children and family and with no resources such as land and animals to fall back on, the NREGA has helped her to survive. Without it she admits, "main to mar jaati (I would have died)!"

Roy reflects on Munni's response to the sustenance that a mere 100 days of labour has guaranteed. "I was moved to tears when I heard her talk... The sense of basic food security that has been achieved for the thousands of rural women is revolutionary on its own. Stable income for even four to five months in the year transforms their lives beyond what anyone sitting in his or her city home can possibly imagine," says Roy.

The MKSS also organises melas (day-long open fora for discussion) to address new demands and old grievances related to NREGA. What the women most vocally demand at work sites today is a two-fold increase in the number of days that the scheme offers and the provision for two members per household to hold a job card instead of present one. "The government must increase the days of labour, how are we to feed our families the year round with just Rs 9,000 when we have five children?" questions Rameshwari Devi, 40, at one such mela held in Arrai block, Ajmer district.

At another site close to village Devdungri, Sita Devi, 50, a poor illiterate villager, proves how the NREGA has instilled confidence to express dissent and demand entitlements in remote areas. Raising the issue of delayed payments she says, "If we don't get money within the month then there is no way we can meet our day-to-day expenses. We do not have any savings. Right now we have not got payments for about two months. The government has to speed things up. Otherwise, we will protest!"

The voices at the melas are of those who matter - women who are directly affected. Interestingly, there is also often melody in the air too, as Roy and others of MKSS - often referred to as 'Aruna Party' by the locals - sing inspirational songs and slogans composed by activists and women beneficiaries. The groups attending the mela respond to chants like "har haath ko kaam do, kaam ka pura daam do" (work for every hand, pay for every work). After all, these women are not mere spectators but owners of a movement.
(© Women's Feature Service)
  State's role in job creation  
  By P. Koshy

IF employment generation is the key to economic recovery, then the whole issue of recession and recovery boils down to a question of leadership. And for recovery, there have to be new entrants in the market who would take the lead in organising various inputs, managing economic activities and putting human resources to productive uses.

The Global Jobs Pact adopted by ILO recently, says that 45 million jobs annually need to be created globally. It says that to reach a pre-crisis level of employment, the global economy would have to create some 300 million new jobs over the next five years. (June 19, 2009 Ref: ILO/09/39)

In India even while the rest of the economy finds itself in severely limiting circumstances, the rural economy offers a glimmer of hope. Fortunately, here is where the secret to job creation lies. Accordingly, India's budget this time witnessed a whopping 144 per cent hike in the national rural employment guarantee scheme (NREGS) and for a host of other programs targeted at rural renewal. But how this enhanced allocation gets translated into life, remains to be seen.

The feeling that India is resilient when it comes to surviving the recession is mostly up to the rural economy to decide. India's major trading partners like the US, Japan, EU and the Middle East countries have been badly affected. Since the troubles began, 150,000 NRIs returned from the Middle East itself, says Overseas Indian Affairs ministry statistics.

Coming back to the issue of economic recovery and the leadership challenge involved in it, we need to seriously start addressing certain systemic factors that hinder individual initiatives and entrepreneurial spirit in the Indian context, especially that of the middleclass.

The intent of the economic reform program in the 1990s was to enable a private sector- led growth for the country. Prior to reforms, economic policy orientation was on building public sector with favorable climate for large-scale private sector. But the reforms of 1991 inaugurated a new era in economic democracy that created a climate conducive for proliferation of entrepreneurial opportunities and free enterprise. Entrepreneurial avenues expanded manifold in different sectors. Also, this era witnessed the state coming forward to promote Small and Micro Enterprises (SMEs) in a big way.

Indian industry has grown substantially in the post-reform era. Many of the SMEs have grown big to large-scale enterprises. Some of them went global and could even acquire companies abroad.

While this being one aspect of reforms, the flip side was the State shying away from several crucial social responsibilities such as health and education. It also closed its eyes when it came to certain vital regulatory roles that no government can just ignore, for instance, its regulatory responsibility in the real estate and housing sector. So we have today, education and healthcare enterprises run purely for profit. As the housing and real estate sectors moved ahead unregulated, with brokers and Dalals playing their part, the price of houses shot up alarmingly.

When the state stayed away from assuming its due responsibility in the educational field, that paved the way for certain vested business interests, resulting in a steep hike in the cost of education, what with mandatory fees, capitation fees and initial donations made to private educational establishments.

Another such area is the housing sector. Unregulated housing and real estate market is the norm of the day on the one hand, while the major priority of a middle-class household goes in for possessing a house. This aspiration is something basic, as everyone should have an abode.

But the realities in these two sectors, cost of education and housing, answer a question why the middle class often shies away from taking risks in the economic arena. A middle class person, who wants to be an entrepreneur, often finds it difficult to move ahead to take risks, when faced with priorities such as securing costly education for children and buying a house. His obvious choice goes towards education for children and buying a home, for instance. Thus, dies his/her entrepreneurial ambitions, as he keeps money for home purchase and meeting educational costs. If he plans to meet them by loans, still he has to ensure prompt payments of EMIs.

A larger and intensive role for the state in education and the housing sector, therefore, is what is required. It has to be in such a way that individual focus fully falls on nation-building, as the state makes needed provisions for education, housing and health care, so that individual attention falls on building the economy.

The case of Singapore is a good example. Its long-term planning is targeted at solving the housing problem once and for all. Hence, 95 per cent of Singaporeans have their own houses -- government-subsidised -- which allow them to focus on building their nation with a clear mind. If the state plays its proper roles in education, health, housing and public transport and create a conducive atmosphere for enterprises to thrive with an SME-friendly environment, this would result in inclusive and egalitarian development. And a large number of new ventures by middle class entrepreneurs would get a push, resulting in new life in the economy.

The money that is otherwise spent on education and housing can be used to build productive industries by the aspiring middle classes. This would create more jobs and bring prosperity and welfare.

Another crucial aspect where thrust is required is entrepreneurship education programs from the school level itself. Countries such as Uganda and Zimbabwe have made initiatives in this regard. To promote and to inculcate entrepreneurship abilities, and self-employment, it is important to adopt them in the curriculum beginning with the school level itself.

Also, for recovery and employment-generating new ventures to be really sustainable in the long run, there needs to be factors such as strong support mechanisms, in terms of mentors, information and technical guidance centers, as well as a skilled talent pool. These supporting centers may be in line with the Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) in the US, Israel and Canada. In the EU states, there are Euro Info Centers that provide much-needed support to start-ups and small business enterprises.

If the state finds a renewed role for it in education, housing and reorient its priorities as a sensible facilitator and allow people to focus on economic activities, it would bring a new order to life.
The writer is with Samadhan Foundation and can be reached at
  Art of showcasing  
  By Apoorv Pandhi
ONE can easily experiment with different sections of the resume while applying from graduate colleges owing to relative flexibility in the reviewer's attitude in evaluating it.

The coherence between your thought process and the structure on the resume is itself a crucial factor for determining success in an interview.

Hence it is imperative that one should take out sufficient time in designing one's resume in order to synchronise one's thoughts with what one would eventually write on a piece of paper.

Designing a resume while switching jobs or applying to a B-school is a different ball game altogether.

It should typically be a one-page document wherein a glance is enough to quench the reviewer's requirement of exceeding the benchmark set forth by him.

It should exude clarity of thought in a precise and crisp way along with focusing on the following sections in order of priority:

1. Past work experience

2. Most relevant internship(s)

3. Graduate college program details

Academic section

Scholastic achievements

Key extra-curricular achievements

The third sub-point should also include some relevant achievements while you were at school.

An imaginary thread should beautifully link all your achievements/experiences in order to portray a virtue highlighting excellence in your attitude.

A great emphasis should thus be laid on the first point itself. The past work experience has to be the most value-adding component of your resume. The work experience along with the internship sections should form a major component of the resume covering more than half a page in conveying the requisite message.

The work experience should highlight the work done by you in an interesting fashion by following a structure which should include:

Current work stream and related fulfillment of goals followed by work streams/projects handled in the past and the objectives achieved in the same.

Office related initiatives which you helped organise.

Do remember to accentuate strength(s) viz. analysing prowess, ability to overcome culturally challenging situations, experience of working in diverse industries/expertise in one industry, creativity, dedication, ability to manage and so on.

Do mention recommendations (if any) given by you, which have led to a major transformation/streamlining of work or resulted in appreciation of your efforts. The work done in the initiatives should show your drive and involvement in firm-building activities.

The internship should essentially mention the work done and the biggest contribution in achieving the goals set forth by the organisation.

The remaining section should cover the important points mentioned in the first few sections of the graduate resume format (mentioned earlier) in a concise way.

These include some details of the academic program in college followed by scholastic achievements, if any. This section should end with the key achievements covered in the graduate resume section under positions of responsibility and extracurricular achievements. The relevant ones should be highlighted in this section.

More emphasis on the work experience is essential as the reviewer would rate your most recent experience as the most valuable. It would be on the basis of this experience that you would get a great job or get into a world-class B-school.

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