Paul Morrison*, a young husband and father of two children, had been out of work for many months when his bishop referred him to Norma Black, employment specialist in the Dundee Scotland Stake. On Monday she interviewed Paul and trained him in basic job-search techniques. On Tuesday she suggested a possible job opening, and Paul contacted the company and picked up a job application, which he hand-delivered the next day. He was interviewed on Thursday, hired on Friday, and he began work the following Monday.
“He was absolutely over the moon because he did it himself,” recalls Sister Black. “I trained him, but he got the job on his own. He was thrilled to be able to support his family.”
Like many families caught in a budget squeeze, Rex and Lori Albretsen* needed to increase their income. The ward employment specialist helping Rex upgrade his skills felt he could also assist Lori, who in addition to caring for her own four children was baby-sitting six children for more than fifty hours each week. After the bishop approved his plan, the employment specialist enlisted the aid of ward members whose skills and knowledge could help Lori.
One ward member who ran a licensed preschool was willing to help Lori become qualified to run her own preschool. A city engineer in the ward advised the Albretsens on how to alter their home to comply with the building code for preschools, and a cement mason and a carpenter, also ward members, helped make the necessary modifications. As a result of ward members pulling together, Lori opened her preschool and began earning more money in fewer hours than before, allowing her to give more time and attention to her own children.
Severe financial problems forced wife and mother Helen Olson*, who is visually and hearing impaired, to look for employment. Through a ward member, she learned of a job possibility—proofreading checks for a local bank—and found the bank willing to work with her disabilities. With help from the Church employment center in Chicago, Illinois, Helen obtained the necessary adaptive equipment that enables her to do her job.
Whereas unemployment and job dissatisfaction can undermine a person’s self-esteem, honest and meaningful labor improves one’s self-reliance and self-respect. Few things affect a person’s life as dramatically—either temporally or spiritually—as unemployment. A chief aim of the Church Employment System is helping members find jobs or get better jobs. Dedicated, caring ward employment specialists touch the lives of fellow members in need. Such service is nothing less than the gospel in action—“every man seeking the interest of his neighbor.” (D&C 82:19.)
Because the average ward has seven unemployed members and any number of others looking for better jobs or needing career guidance, the ward employment specialist has heavy responsibilities. In essence he or she helps ward members find jobs or upgrade their employment by interviewing them to determine their needs, aptitudes, and abilities; training applicants in job-search techniques and referring job openings to them; giving career guidance and information on community resources; and helping handicapped individuals with rehabilitation and job placement.
For assistance, the ward specialist turns to the stake specialist, who in turn may look to the nearest Church employment center for backup and support. The Church operates 104 such centers worldwide, most of them staffed by Church service missionaries, usually retired persons or couples with backgrounds in job placement, personnel, and other related fields.
The ward employment specialist may be either a person called specifically to this position or a designated member of the presidencies of the priesthood quorums or Relief Society. However, home teachers, visiting teachers, and, indeed, all ward members are encouraged to report job openings to the ward specialist and to use their own skills, when requested, to assist and train others.
“Although I am always looking for job opportunities, I have only two eyes,” says Russell Grieco, ward employment specialist in the Hurst First Ward, Hurst Texas Stake. “But if all four hundred members in our ward work together, that makes eight hundred eyes. That networking is the real key to the effectiveness of the ward specialist.” Also helpful are the priesthood executive committee and the ward welfare committee.
This system can be a tremendous asset to an unemployed member. One example is Ruth Larsen*, a convert and single mother of three. Ruth had earned a degree in computer programming but had been unable to find a job in her field. She worked double shifts at a local department store to make ends meet, leaving her very little time to look for a better job. The ward employment specialist helped Ruth put together a résumé and sent her out on several job referrals, but without success.
Then one Sunday, while Ruth was talking to the ward specialist at church, another ward member mentioned an opening—in Ruth’s field—at her company. Ruth applied for the job and was hired.
Another helpful resource—covering every aspect of job hunting—is a set of six videocassettes (no. 53362) and workbooks (no. 31484) entitled JobSearch—The Inside Track®, available at meetinghouse libraries or Church distribution centers. While Randy Smith of the West Jordan Utah Westbrook Stake was considering applying for a higher-level job in his company, he spent an afternoon reviewing the JobSearch materials applicable to his situation.
“The experience raised my self-esteem,” he says, “by helping me quantify my accomplishments, focus more clearly on my strong points, and thus present myself better.” Although Randy did not get the job, the preparation helped him change his work habits and hone his image within the company to focus on the management-level jobs he wanted. A few months later he was promoted within his department to a better job than the one he had originally applied for.
“When someone loses his job, he often asks, ‘Why me, Lord?’ It can be a real testimony stretcher,” says Barry Clift, employment specialist in the Salem (Oregon) Fifth Ward. “Much of my calling involves listening to and encouraging people.
“One father of three became rather anxious when he was laid off by his employer without warning. He called me every few days to see if I had any leads. When I realized there were no prospects on the horizon, I urged him to apply for every management position in the area.” The man followed his advice and soon found a job.
Unemployed persons may feel embarrassed, resentful, or upset; and the last thing they want is for others to find out about their difficulties. However, overcoming those feelings and seeking help from ward leaders puts the Church Employment System to work for them.
“A bishop needs to know the very day a person becomes unemployed,” says Ron Lalanne, employment specialist in the Escondido California Stake. “There should be no embarrassment—the program is set up to help people. Unfortunately, many members are reluctant to use it.”
Brother Lalanne advises all members to keep their résumés up-to-date, in the event they find themselves out of work. He likes to keep copies of those résumés on file in case he hears of available jobs that might have advantages over members’ current jobs.
Ron Conlin is the employment specialist for the Billingham England Stake, where unemployment can run as high as 30 percent, with many being out of work for several years. His calling requires “a great deal of caring for people,” he says, and places him at the “heart of many of the problems they face. Helping them find a job gives them greater self-worth.”
Paramount to finding employment is the job seeker’s commitment, desire, and willingness to seek the Lord’s help in the process, according to Jim George, an employment specialist in the Salt Lake (Utah) Liberty Stake. Despite being severely handicapped, he helps find jobs for an average of thirty-five people each month. He recalls how he and a truck driver desperate for work knelt in prayer. Shortly after the prayer, the phone rang—a call from a trucking company looking for a driver who could start that very evening! Jim sent the man for an interview, and he was hired on the spot.
Though the process does not always bring immediate success, the hand of the Lord is consistently evident, Jim says. Del Low, a Church service missionary at the Church employment center in Seattle, Washington, agrees. “I’ve worked in this position too long to believe incidents like this just happen,” he says. “Coincidence cannot account for such consistent results.”
Norma Black of Dundee, Scotland, says that every person she has guided through the JobSearch course has found a job. “That is one thing that makes this such a wonderful calling—helping people who are really struggling, and seeing their lives improve, sometimes immediately,” she says. “This is the Lord’s way of helping his people.”
Norma helped find a job for one woman who needed to find a job after having been at home for twenty-five years and was afterwards thrilled when the woman tearfully bore her testimony about how wonderful it was to be able to work and to pay tithing.
Though the Church Employment System may appear to be a temporal program, its highest aim is the spiritual development of its members. President Marion G. Romney, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency, explained, “There is an interdependence between those who have and those who have not. The process of giving exalts the poor and humbles the rich. In the process, both are sanctified. … Once a person has been made whole or self-reliant, he reaches out to aid others, and the cycle repeats itself.” (Ensign, Nov. 1982, p. 93.)
Our fellowship with the Saints forms a natural network of Christlike love, concern, and support. That vast resource, coupled with the Church’s welfare plan and employment system, is a benefit that no unemployed or needy member can afford to overlook. After all, it is the Lord’s plan for helping his people in need.
The practice of helping members in need find jobs began early in the restoration of the gospel and laid the foundation for the Church’s Welfare Department, of which the Employment System is now an integral part. Shortly after the Church was organized in 1830, the Prophet Joseph Smith encouraged the Saints to gather together to sustain one another, spiritually and economically. In February 1831 the Prophet received a revelation in which the Lord commanded his people to “remember the poor, and consecrate of thy properties for their support that which thou hast to impart unto them.” (D&C 42:30.)
Those consecrations enabled the needy to receive not just a meal or temporary supplies but also land stewardship—a means of support for them, or, in practical terms, a job.
A year later the Lord enjoined equality among his people, adding that “all this [is] for the benefit of the church of the living God, that every man may improve upon his talent [and] … gain other talents, yea, even an hundred fold, to be cast into the Lord’s storehouse, to become the common property of the whole church—
“Every man seeking the interest of his neighbor, and doing all things with an eye single to the glory of God.” (D&C 82:18–19; emphasis added.)
In the Church Employment System, these instructions find a practical application: ensuring gainful employment for Church members.
As thousands of converts, many nearly destitute, flocked to join the Saints in Missouri, Nauvoo, and later in Salt Lake City, caring for and assimilating them into the Church community became a mammoth task—but one with successful results. Needy members were given jobs so they could support themselves and, in turn, aid others.
In the winter of 1850, the Church’s Public Works Department was created to give new arrivals jobs constructing public buildings, roads, or canals. Payment was often “in kind,” consisting of food and other supplies.
In 1896 the Church established an employment bureau to which local Church leaders could turn to help members become self-sufficient.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Church leaders, mindful of the Lord’s counsel that the Church should “stand independent above all other creatures beneath the celestial world” (D&C 78:14), were concerned about the great number of unemployed and needy members receiving government assistance. In 1935, the First Presidency asked stake president Harold B. Lee, then president of the Pioneer Stake in Salt Lake City, to “head up the welfare movement to turn the tide from government relief, direct relief, and help to put the Church in a position where it could take care of its own needy.”
Economic conditions of the time had put many Saints in financial straits. In 1935, for example, more than half the members of President Lee’s 7,300-member stake were dependent on government welfare. “We had only one place to go,” President Lee later commented, “and that was to apply the Lord’s program as set forth in the revelations.” (Ensign, Jan. 1973, p. 104.) The result was the Church welfare plan, centered around individual employment and self-sufficiency.
“If this unemployment is to be solved, it must be done by all the people working together and helping each other to find employment,” stated Church President Heber J. Grant in a letter to stake presidents and bishops in April 1936. In October general conference that year, President Grant outlined the basic objectives of the welfare plan in a hallmark statement that has since guided the Church welfare program and distinguished it from government programs; the Church’s program, he explained, emphasized “independence, industry, thrift and self respect. … The aim of the Church is to help the people to help themselves. Work is to be re-enthroned as the ruling principle in the lives of our Church membership.” (Conference Report, Oct. 1936, p. 3.)
Today the Church Employment System operates much the same way, with three major objectives: (1) to help individuals find gainful employment, (2) to provide counseling for those in need of upgrading their employment or of rehabilitation, and (3) to help parents, through priesthood quorums and the Relief Society, counsel children about career planning.