Introduction to the Professional Development Series (Fall 2015)

Oscar and ChrisAuthor: Leah Dennington

On August 19th, 2015 Career Gear launched its Fall 2015 Professional Development Series (PDS). The Director of Programs, Oscar Prado, and the Program Manager for the Job Readiness Program, Christopher Straub, led the first workshop of this semester. Workshop participants were familiarized with the schedule and curriculum, program policies, and the wide array of resources available through Career Gear.

At the beginning of the workshop, the men were given a chance to introduce themselves to the group. All of the men –ranging in age from their early 20s to their late 50s– were present to set the course for their participation in the program. Some participants had already graduated from Phase I of PDS and were there to embark upon the journey of completing the requirements for Phase II. As far as the new participants, they were referred to Career Gear by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), rehabilitation centers, as well as by friends or relatives that participated in PDS in the past.

All of the men in attendance were either unemployed or underemployed. Several had been previously incarcerated, and two of the men said they were in recovery programs for substance abuse. One participant had an Associates Degree in Business, and one young man was an aspiring standup comedian. There was also a published author, a United States Veteran, and a man who was getting his degree in social work while concurrently volunteering in his community.

One of the first topics covered was the benefit of receiving additional professional attire. The men learned that upon completion of Phase I – they would receive a suiting package consisting of: a suit jacket, pants, two dress shirts, and three ties for prospective job interviews. Another suiting package is earned after graduating from Phase II. Up to four suits total are given to each participant at Career Gear – the fourth being given after employment commences.

Phase I is completed when a participant attends six core courses/workshops and two elective courses. Completing Phase II consists of the men attending any eight workshops throughout the term. The Workshops take place almost every Monday Tuesday and Wednesday and cover myriad subjects– from job search techniques, financial goal setting and budgeting, yoga, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, to the power of positive communication.

Additional opportunities for support were also discussed. Participants were informed that Career Gear staff and volunteers are available to provide individual assistance for employment related matters, such as developing their LinkedIn profiles and/or revising resumes. The Director of Programs also mentioned the MAST Mentoring Program, where trained mentors are matched with participants to meet regularly throughout six months in order to give advice on professional and personal issues alike.

Another obvious resource in the program was the inherent resource these men have in one another. Networking, and the sharing of job leads among the participants, is a frequent occurrence, as well as the sharing of other non-job related resources.

One man who had completed Phase I spoke about his experience in Career Gear. He said that PDS differed from other programs he had experienced in that PDS participants are genuinely proactive in taking steps towards improving their lives and being their best selves. Through his and other shared success stories, first time participants acquired much knowledge about what to expect in the months to come.

The benefit of shifting personal perceptions was illustrated again and again throughout the group discussion. One 21-year-old gentleman of African-American descent brought up something poignant. He said, a while ago, he’d made the decision to trade in his hoodies for smarter attire that would create a better first impression. He made this decision after Trayvon Martin was senselessly shot and killed, in part because he was wearing a hoodie.   He went on to say he hopes his choices will be an example to his friends so they can better protect themselves. His statement was profound in that it was not a reactive behavior spurred by anger or fear, but rather, a proactive decision made to better protect him from prejudice. Even though the rules, which govern society, don’t always make sense, this wise young man figured out a way in which he could take more control –and in positive way– put the odds in his favor. He realized that there are options and choices available. He knew that clothes don’t make the man but a man’s choice of clothing will be the visual representation of whom he believes himself to be.

That’s what Career Gear does; it gives men a choice. The gentlemen who chose to work with Career Gear are given the opportunity to acquire professional clothes and develop skills in order to even the playing field and be their best self.

One of the men, who had been incarcerated for several years prior to signing up for the Professional Developmental Series, summed up the empowering experience of coming to Career Gear perfectly. He said he’d been struggling to find who he was after serving his sentence, and subsequently had several false starts looking for a career path. He then found Career Gear, and after he began attending PDS, he got his first suit. As this man received his attire, he stood before the full-length mirror in his smart new suit and looked at himself. It was at that moment, that he saw himself in a new light. He realized he had found what he was looking for, and as he gazed at his reflection, this man said one thing, “I’m back”.