SIMPSONVILLE — With the state’s unemployment rate at 12.1 percent and with literally hundreds of parishioners out of work in many churches, some business professionals in the Upstate decided to do something about it.
A dozen of them joined forces to form The Employment Support Group in March. The nondenominational group assists people who are looking for work, but they are more than just a shoulder to cry on.
“We’re not bleeding hearts,” said group facilitator Walter Hahne. “We’re very professional and practical. We do know what works.”
The group includes managers, recruiters, financial advisors, personnel officers and a marketing coach. Two of the leaders are fluent in Spanish and all the services they offer are free.
At their semi-monthly meetings at Conner Hall on the grounds of St. Mary Magdalene Church, the professionals take their clients, whom they call members, through a series of steps designed to help them rejoin the work force.
“Our members are at all different levels,” Hahne said. “Some have just lost their jobs or are looking to change careers. Some have been unemployed for a long time. Some are executives, some are entry-level admin types. We’ve had college students. We have not had any manual laborers yet, but we could help them, too.”
Because of the diverse nature of the membership, the first step is to lead them in a self-assessment.
“Be honest with yourself about why you’re unemployed,” Hahne said.
The second step is to set objectives. Then the group teaches networking and interviewing skills and assists in the writing of a resume.
At the June 25 meeting, for instance, John Horvath, a former recruiter at Michelin, told members to be prepared for the interviewer asking, ‘Tell me about yourself.’
“That’s an opportunity for a 30-second commercial,” Horvath said. “Be prepared to answer that and other key questions, such as, ‘What are your goals and aspirations?’ Highlight your strengths.”
Networking, meeting and communicating with persons who might be able to direct you to openings, is the most important aspect of the employment search.
Experts agree that somewhere between 60 and 85 percent of jobs are filled by employment seekers developing contacts, according to Hahne. Answering ads and Internet postings comes in a distant second.
Mary Beine, a parishioner at St. Mary Magdalene, was out of work for three years before she found a position through the Employment Support Group.
“I found my job through networking,” Beine said. “Support is a must, and this group was so helpful.”
Her husband is another example of someone who profited from the group.
After a decades-long career in the automobile industry, Bill Beine quit his job last fall to seek greener pastures. Suddenly, the nation lost 4,000 car dealerships as GM and Chrysler collapsed, and he was unable to find even a brown patch of grass. The failure to find work affected him.
“Over the course of job seeking, you start to lose your confidence. This group brings it back,” he said.
Beine eventually found work, although at a much reduced salary from his previous positions, and in a new field. He is optimistic about the prospects for the company he signed with, however, and is self-assured now that he is a working man again.
Despite successes like the Beine couple, Hahne stressed that the group is not an employment service. Its function is to offer advice and support.
“There’s a definite need for this kind of thing,” he said. “People out of work need camaraderie, a place to go and an opportunity for bonding with others in the same boat. Even if the economy improves, we’re thinking that we may stay in business. I’m even thinking of expanding through all the diocese.”
For more information call the church at (864) 288-4884 or Hahne at (864) 234-2817.