The Hour. By Tatiana Flowers. December 11, 2018
BRIDGEPORT — When Tawana Joyner opened a letter from the Connecticut Department of Labor in August, she brushed it off and “threw it to the side.”
The note encouraged her to join Platform to Employment or P2E, an enrichment program that helps people experiencing long-term unemployment find jobs in Connecticut. She was skeptical of the letter’s contents — in particular of figures that stated 80 percent of graduates find jobs — and their average salary is just over $49,000.
But something told her to reconsider.
She went to orientation and met P2E staff who said they could help her change her career path, from marketing to human resources or finance. Two months later, the Norwalk woman was enrolled in the five-week program.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d get as much as I did out of this,” she said Tuesday. “It made me realize my worth as an individual and if I was going to make a change I needed to do it now versus being in a job that I hated to get a paycheck.”
She attended P2E’s latest graduation ceremony Tuesday morning at Discovery Museum in Bridgeport and said one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned is finding innovative ways to approach companies, like attending networking events, instead of applying to job sites online and “going into that black hole.”
The former marketing and sales employee for assisted living companies said, “Now instead of selling assisted living, I’m selling myself.”
Since its inception, P2E has helped more than 1,000 Connecticut people experiencing long-term unemployment find jobs, according to Tom Long, vice president of marketing and communications for The WorkPlace, nonprofit that created P2E in 2011. It begins with coaching, skills assessments and career readiness workshops that staff said rebuild confidence and improve employability.
Funded through the state Department of Labor, P2E pays graduates’ wages during a trial period where employers can evaluate if a candidate is a good fit for an open position before hiring them full-time, Long said.
At the graduation, people in the crowd smiled ear to ear as speakers delivered their speeches.
“Let me be the first person to say congratulations and thank you for making it through your five-week journey,” said Adrienne Parkmond, chief operating officer for the WorkPlace. “We didn’t teach you anything that you didn’t know. We just helped enhance it and bring it out of you.”
Over time, class sizes shrink but graduations come more often, said Joseph Carbone, president and CEO of The WorkPlace.
At the beginning of the course, 59 people enrolled and Tuesday morning 56 graduated, he said. “That’s about a 97 percent success rate and correct me if I’m wrong but that’s got to be one of the highest since the program started.”
Half of the room roped off empty chairs that had sheets of paper that spelled with names of graduates who couldn’t attend because they had already secured employment.
Some of their employers include Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care, Center for Human Development, Danbury Public Schools, the U.S. Post Office and ABCD Inc.
“The great thing about the P2E program was these were skilled individuals who had job expertise in the past,” said Monette Ferguson, executive director for ABCD Inc in Bridgeport. “What we look for in general is that level of expertise and talent and the fact that they had been displaced wasn’t a primary concern.”
She formed a partnership with P2E just five months ago and hired one graduate in a management position. She’s looking to fill two more openings and is considering P2E graduates.
For Bridgeport resident, Tracy Greene, P2E was all about helping her adapt to a more contemporary job market.
She worked in a charge entry and medical billing role for 11 years and felt rusty when applying to opportunities online.
“Before I got that job, you faxed resumes and filled out applications,” she said. “And facetime interviews now — everything is just so different.”
Before she started P2E she kept her unemployment a secret, often crying to her husband out of frustration.
She would dress the part and interview comfortably, she said, but couldn’t secure full-time employment.
She’s applied for the same position she had before she left her last job in March. Bridgeport Hospital, Yale and Physician’s Alliance are organizations on her list of prospects.
One thing she and Joyner said is if nothing else, they can encourage others in similar situations to take on the opportunity that builds lifelong friendship and support.