Q&A: Kristin Barker on Hiring Well, Doing Good in Columbus
Georgia Center for Opportunity’s Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) initiative is quickly gaining ground in Columbus, Georgia. Here’s a brief Q&A from the front lines with HWDG Program Manager Kristin Barker.
Q: What’s the goal of HWDG in Columbus?
Kristin: The HWDG effort is a mission to identify, train, and equip the chronically un- and under-employed for the workforce, thereby impacting the ecosystem in Columbus and Phenix City by reducing poverty, increasing self-sufficiency, and building a stronger workforce.
Q: When we’re successful in Columbus, what will that look like? What outcomes?
Kristin: Workers will be reengaged and prepared to add value to businesses and to continue advancing toward an income level that allows them to flourish.
Employers and nonprofit organizations will be drawn into the same space and conversation. Education will allow these groups to speak the same language and share common goals.
A shared vision is another goal. All entities that touch those who struggle with poverty will connect in a new way that opens up needed opportunities that haven’t existed before. The ultimate goal for all will become generating meaningful work and self-sufficiency for those currently living in poverty.
While building a partnership with HWDG, our company has been provided an opportunity to help our local community and hire individual’s looking for opportunities in the work field. I’ve enjoyed working with Hiring Well Doing Good and look forward to hiring more great associates that they provide in the future.
Q: What’s the jobs situation like in Columbus right now?
Kristin: It’s going well right now. In general, Columbus tends to lag a little behind other areas of the country. When we do have a recession, we may not see it as immediately. I do have contacts in certain industries who tell me they don’t have many entry level jobs, but they do have job needs in a specific area that require targeted training. Figuring out how to align these targeted needs with talent development will be a critical piece to address.
Above all, employers say they need motivated employees who are willing to work and care and are self-motivated.
Q: Share some of the partners you’re working with in Columbus. What makes these relationships so effective and special?
Kristin: HWDG is part of a larger movement in Columbus that’s super exciting. We’re able to tap into a lot of existing support and networks to help people find jobs. Many of the existing efforts currently exist in isolation. We’re working with these other groups to bring a more connected experience to low-income families and, specifically, underemployed job seekers.
Columbus 2025 began a few years back. It was initiated after a Chamber of Commerce inter-city leadership trip.
One action area of Columbus 2025 is called Talented, Educated People. It’s all about aligning education and workforce development and increasing the overall talent pool available in Columbus. A large part of the focus up until this year has been on the skilled workforce—how to best align with the school system.
It was leaving out what HWDG was doing—reengaging those not currently engaged in the workforce. We are being adopted into Columbus 2025 as part of the reengagement arm. They saw our value add there.
This is our first year of figuring out how we connect into that.
HWDG has given me hope, resources, and taught me strategies that help me make better decisions. It has empowered me to understand my abilities and how they relate in a job. I feel encouraged and inspired that I can be more than who I am!
Another component group, start up this year, is the Chattahoochee Valley Poverty Reduction Coalition. It specifically pulls together resource providers and other community leaders into a working group to reduce barriers. The initial focus is on families who have kids under the age of 5, helping to move them toward self-sufficiency.
We’re gathering data and addressing priority issues together.
HWDG will be involved with the employment component. We are also an advocate for a common family intake form and online community portal that can be used across programs serving our target families.
Another important group we’re able to work with is Mayor’s Commission on Reentry. The purpose of the Mayor’s Commission on Reentry is to coordinate local efforts to support adults exiting local and state incarceration facilities in Columbus and statewide that will be released to a Muscogee County residency.
This is an important piece.