Goodwill steps in to get people working

It wasn't long after Michael Johnson, 18, of Harrisburg, graduated from home-school that he learned about the harsh realities of survival.

What started out as a casual job search while he took classes at Central Piedmont Community College turned into a necessity when prices for classes rose.

Johnson took a semester off to find a job and build up a savings account.

But when that semester was over, he still hadn't found a job.

Recent years have proven that nobody is protected from the recession.

The July state unemployment rate was 9.8 percent - above the national rate of 9.5 percent - according to the N.C. Employment Security Commission.

Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont is trying to buck that trend by offering local residents the resources they need to become employed.

Although the nonprofit is known to most as a place to donate clothing and other items, Goodwill offers career services for all needs, including six job resource centers with computers and fax machines.

Goodwill also offers occupational training programs for careers in banking, call centers, customer service, construction and hospitality as well as a youth job connection program for ages 14 to 21.

"We're getting people from all walks of life," said Phillip Gaber, a Goodwill instructor for the banking and customer service programs. "We're teaching them hard skills, but we're also trying to boost them up so they can go into an interview with confidence."

Johnson enlisted the help of Goodwill's services.

Armando Barragan, public relations and promotions manager for Goodwill, said the number of people seeking their services nearly tripled between 2007 and 2009.

Through the youth job connection program - which taught classes on resumes, finances, cash registers and retail - Johnson realized he'd been making a lot of mistakes when he went into an interview.

"I didn't dress appropriately, I wasn't sending thank you notes, I didn't have a resume with me at all times," he said. "I wasn't really prepared and that's a negative for most employers."

After finishing the career courses, Johnson was paired with a Goodwill job counselor. When he got an interview at the Domino's Pizza in Cotswold in January, he made sure he had his resume handy, his dress shoes on and his files organized.

Although Johnson admitted he felt discouraged at times, he's glad he didn't give up because eventually the hard work paid off.

"You have to be serious when you're doing a job search and that will show by the results you get," said Johnson, adding that Domino's hired him. "The manager even complimented me on how well-organized I was and that he liked that."