Removing barriers is a key to helping people re-enter the job market

FLINT, Michigan -- Across the country, the need for workers in a wide range of industries has been well-documented in the news media. That atmosphere is good for people in search of new careers as they have a wealth of options.

“I feel like this is a job-seeker market,” said Diona McLaughlin, communications manager for GST Michigan Works. “You have your pick as a job-seeker right now because there are so many positions available.”

Filling those positions is more complicated than simply listing open positions and hiring, though. McLaughlin said there are still many barriers that are keeping people from pursuing jobs right now.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, frontline workers in healthcare, retail, and food service environments were some of the most at-risk populations for exposure. There have also been severe mental health impacts that have caused people to leave the workforce. McLaughlin says that one of the things the GST Michigan Works team does while working with clients in search of employment is try to alleviate those lingering fears by pointing out resources that can help evaluate a company’s health and safety procedures and what they do to keep employees safe.

Another large barrier is related to childcare. Many facilities temporarily closed during the pandemic and some don’t plan to reopen until late summer or early fall when the new school year starts. Some facilities closed permanently during the pandemic. For the centers that remain, wait lists for families are lengthy. School districts that had virtual or hybrid learning models also made it difficult for working parents to have childcare during the day when kids were home. There were also changes to before and after school programs that provided care for kids when parents have to work earlier or later than the school day extends. 

“That’s a valid barrier,” McLaughlin said. “Many people also say they don’t have access to transportation. There are a whole bunch of barriers keeping people from getting a job, going back to school, whatever their goals may be. We have resources, funding, and programs available to help. We also have community partners that we can connect clients with to help.”

GST Michigan Works hosted their first in-person job fair since the pandemic started on July 13. Employers from healthcare, retail, manufacturing, landscaping, and other sectors were among the participants.  

Renee Burgess, director of human resources for Attendant Care Autism Services, was among the employer representatives in attendance. The organization is looking for employees of varying backgrounds to fill positions.

“We’re looking for behavior technicians who work with children with autism, ages 18 months to 21 years of age,” Burgess said. “They help with different aspects of daily living for clients. We provide all of the training (for those positions). We’re also looking for clinical staff, qualified behavioral health providers and board certified behavior analysts. That is the clinical team that oversees treatment plans, treats patients, and works with parents to help provide balance at home to help children.”

Attendant Care Autism Services has offices in Genesee, Saginaw, Macomb, and St. Clair counties. They provide some services at their various locations, but also do in-home care. Burgess said more face-to-face opportunities to meet potential employees is a positive thing moving out of the pandemic. 

“I really think it will help,” she said. “It has been a challenge, not everyone has the technology to do Zoom interviews or (meet virtually). Being in-person, you’re also able to bring people into your facilities and let them see the sort of job that they’ll be doing, so I’m glad to see we’re starting to get back to more normal.”

Attendant Care Autism Services has been in business for about 16 years, and has job postings on their website and on Indeed. 

McLaughlin is hoping that as things continue to open up, GST Michigan Works can provide more resources to people as they get comfortable re-entering the job market.

“It feels amazing (to do an in-person job fair,” she said. “The resources and programs we have available, we don’t want to keep them to ourselves. We want to get these things out to the community, we want people to use them. Right now we’re all about meeting people where they are. We want to help our community get back to work and get back to school.”

People interested in GST Michigan Works’ services can call 1 (800) 285-9675 or visit their website. Upcoming events are also listed on the site

“Whatever your goals are -- finding a job, learning a skilled trade, restarting your education, we’re here to help,” McLaughlin said.
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.