By day, Stephen A. Colella is a vocational-rehabilitation counselor at the University of Massachusetts Worcester. On Monday nights, however, he is a volunteer and the founder of Job Club RI, an all-volunteer, free series of classes designed to put people back to work.
Colella, of Warwick, is a defender of the middle class, a group he sees as the biggest victim of the Great Recession. Job Club members are generally skilled or semi-skilled and made about $30,000 when working. He says they have no recourse for help at the federal or state level because many of those training programs are designed for the economically disadvantaged, those living on the border of poverty.
Some of the unemployed are unfamiliar with the Internet or online searches and social media. They are unfamiliar with its possibilities or the concept that most employment opportunities are advertised online. He provides the fundamentals for the technical aspects like cover letters, resume development, job applications, interviewing techniques and understanding the job market. Members are given examples of resumes, interview questions and responses, job-search strategies, interviewing and networking. More importantly, he educates and rebuilds confidence.
The program, which started out as a support group, has helped about 56 percent of attendees, or 170 people, land jobs since the program’s inception in 2009, says Colella. And he’s done it with only limited donations, along with money from his own pocket.
The average participant at the club has been unemployed for 77 weeks, some less and some significantly more. The mission statement of the club can be summarized in one question posed by Colella to attendees of a Warwick meeting of the Smaller Business Association of New England on April 4: “Do you know what happens to a person who has been unemployed or underemployed for a long period of time?”
Many Job Club attendees have a steady work history, so suddenly having to find work is foreign terrain for them; resumes need updating, cover letters require certain buzzwords and with the tough job market, rejections are plentiful. “If you’re lucky, you might get an email saying your application was received. If you’re really lucky you’ll get a letter saying that you didn’t get the job but they’ll keep the letter on file.