Our Connections Make Us Stronger

The blog this week was written by Jennifer Goodwill, a Community Broker at The Arcadia Institute. On March 20, 2014, the 5th annual Building a Community of Belonging forum took place in downtown Kalamazoo. Allison Hammond wrote last week about the stories that were shared regarding employing people with disabilities. After hearing from individuals about their experiences with employment, the people attending the forum spent time in small groups talking about what we had learned. Each group was asked to reflect on the value of connections in an individual’s life and the role connections may play in employment. A common theme in the stories is that connections help individuals find employment opportunities, and they also help businesses find quality employees to hire.

People often talk about the value of networking and using personal connections in the search for employment, and the stories we heard at the forum showed why these connections are so helpful. Many of the individuals talked about how they were able to use their connections to have deeper discussions with employers about matching the needs of the organization with the strengths of the individual.

When going through the traditional method of searching help wanted ads and filling out applications, the employer must depend on information in an application and their interview skills to make a decision about hiring someone. But when you use personal connections to bring an employer and potential employee together, many of the unknowns are removed, like are they dependable, responsible and teachable? Knowing an individual first hand, or having someone you respect recommend an individual, increases the chances that the right fit will be found for a job. Because there is an existing relationship, people are willing to take time to talk and explore available opportunities.

The stories from our participants included a long-term volunteer starting a conversation about how he may become an employee; an intern using the skills she has learned and positive recommendations she has earned to seek a paid position; a man asking a local business owner who is friends with his family if he may fill out an application and talk about matching his skills with needs of the business; and, an individual who found his job when an organization arranged for him to meet an employer needing to hire someone for a particular position.

And it goes both ways. Not only do connections help employers find quality employees, but many of the comments at the forum pointed out that connections can help individuals find out about potential places of employment. We need to keep our eyes and ears open as we move about our community, and look for available opportunities. If we hear about a business or organization needing to hire someone for a job, think about who you may introduce to them that would be an asset to the organization. And, if you know of someone looking for a job, think about who you know in the community that may be interested in hiring them, or, at the very least, may be able to provide the individual with advice and encouragement to set them on their desired path to employment.

Check back next week to learn more about the discussions at the forum.