City program breaking barriers to employment

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Posted November 27, 2020 | By Lisa McGinnes, Ocala Gazette

Just over a year ago, the Ocala City Council set out to create an alternative pathway to careers with the City of Ocala through the Targeted Local Hire Program, which provides on-the-job training for residents of the focus area, census tract 18.

Now the first participants to complete the program have moved into full-time positions with the city.

Sydney Vernon is a customer service attendant at the City of Ocala’s Discovery Center, a museum and education center for children and families.

“I previously worked in the fast food industry, but working at the Discovery Center has opened my eyes to a completely different work setting,” Vernon said. “Working for the city has provided me the guidance and encouragement needed to keep moving forward and working towards new goals. I finally have a job that makes me happy.”

Ocala City Manager Sandra Wilson said the city was excited about the council’s vision.

“One of Ocala City Council’s strategic initiatives is to ‘address unemployment and workforce preparedness in targeted city neighborhoods,’” Wilson explained. “The Targeted Local Hire Program was created in 2019 to provide an opportunity to those who face significant barriers to stable employment. With City Council’s leadership, a path has been created to help elevate the community and the people who are a part of it. This program provides an alternative pathway to careers within the City of Ocala, to help bridge the gap between those who are currently unemployed and those who become skilled workers after completing the training.”

Ire Bethea, the Ocala city councilman whose district includes census tract 18, believes the program is beneficial not just for those living between Pine Avenue and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, from Northwest Tenth Street to Southwest Tenth Street. He believes a more diverse and more skilled workforce also benefits local businesses.

“The program was created to provide a pathway for the residents to get work experience and training so that they could possibly go on to get full-time employment with the city or any other entity within our community,” Bethea said. He explained that even if the city doesn’t have a position available, participants have a completion certificate and six months of valuable training to help them find another job.   

“It’s an opportunity for us to put a dent in the unemployment rate as well, give a person an opportunity to work…It’s a positive for all of us, the residents as well as the city—and any other business in Ocala, because if we can give them those six months of training they may be able to go and do something else if we don’t have a position available for them,” he said.

There are a few positions open now, said City of Ocala Marketing and Communications Manager Ashley Dobbs. She explained that there are two people currently enrolled in the program, which is limited to five trainees at a time. Applicants can find the positions, such as Recreation Aide I trainee, Maintenance Worker trainee, Irrigation Specialist trainee and Sanitation Worker I trainee listed on the employment page at Applicants must first take a skills assessment test at CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion and can then be interviewed by the city’s human resources department.

The program helps overcome barriers to employment, Dobbs said.

“We want to bridge that gap. It could be education, it could be a lack of experience, it could be you hit a rough patch,” Dobbs explained. “There may have been a potential flaw on the record or something like that. It’s people that deserve a chance. We want to be able to provide them with the resources needed to enter the workforce, to be able to keep those jobs and to have the ongoing cycle of a steady stream of up-to-date, really great employees that we’ve trained, that we’ve poured a lot of heart and soul into and deserve to have that chance to have a really great job.”

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