It’s not so much about jobs as it is about joy—the kind of joy that comes from victory over fear and doubt and hopelessness.
It’s about a 50-year-old bishop and father of five who came home one day and announced to his wife and children that he had been laid off. He no longer had a job to provide for his family.
It’s about where he went from there.
This bishop, who had spent hours counseling with ward members regarding employment and living within their means, never supposed he would be the one without a job, without income, without a way to pay his bills. Worse, he never supposed—even if he had lost his job—that he would have a difficult time finding a new one.
But as days turned into weeks, his resources shrank and bills began to grow. He tried new lines of work but wasn’t successful at them. Along with his confidence, he lost the ability to present himself well in an interview, feeling more and more useless and unimportant. He stopped going to interviews altogether.
Finally, he visited the LDS Employment Resource Center—the same place he had so often sent members of his own ward. He felt uncomfortable walking in the door, but soon found himself surrounded by understanding, professional employees and volunteers who took a personal interest in him.
Finding a job was not easy or quick, but the bishop worked hard at it every day. As he followed the job search plan outlined for him at the employment resource center, his confidence began to grow again.
The day he accepted a job that would provide needed income and also real satisfaction, he shed tears of joy and thankfulness. Months later, his wife paid tribute to those at the center who helped him overcome this terrible crisis. “Thank you,” she said, “for giving me my husband back.”
This bishop is representative of the more than 75,000 Church members and others who found jobs through LDS Employment Services last year.
When the Lord told Adam he would have “to eat his bread by the sweat of his brow” (Moses 5:1), what He offered to mankind was not so much a curse but an invitation to experience some of the greatest joys and satisfactions life has to offer. “Work is our blessing, not our doom,” taught President Ezra Taft Benson. “God has a work to do, and so should we.”1 Even though we sometimes think of work as a temporal obligation, President Spencer W. Kimball explained, “work is a spiritual necessity as well as an economic necessity.”2
So when a member becomes unemployed, it is a cause of concern not only to the family but also to the Church. Prior to becoming a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Gordon B. Hinckley wrote: “A man out of work is of special moment to the Church because, deprived of his inheritance, he is on trial as Job was on trial—for his integrity. As days lengthen into weeks and months and even years of adversity, the hurt grows deeper.”3
Almost from its beginning, the Church in its actions has attempted to help members have the blessing of work in their lives.
As early as 1831, the Church provided assistance to members in need of employment. Bishops Edward Partridge and Newel K. Whitney organized work projects to help those who had left their homes and jobs and moved to congregate with the Saints. Years later, after the Latter-day Saints gathered in Utah, President Brigham Young spoke of the bishop’s duty to see that “there will not be an individual in his Ward that is not employed to the best advantage.”4 He established public works projects to put unemployed members to work erecting buildings such as the Salt Lake Temple, the city’s theater, and the Social Hall, as well as walls, bridges, and canals.
After the modern-day welfare program was announced in 1936, employment resource centers began to appear wherever sustained by the needs of the members. Today, employment resource centers serve Church members and others in 20 countries and offer assistance and encouragement to thousands who are unemployed or looking to improve their current employment. The people they help range from executives to entrepreneurs, from clerks to cab drivers.
Lack of suitable employment can have devastating consequences for families in almost any culture, says Gary Winters, former director of LDS Employment Services. “It is difficult to find peace and tranquillity at home when families are forced to confront daily the oppressive realities of hunger, cold, and homelessness. How can mothers and fathers reach their full potential as sons and daughters of God when they are faced with the nearly paralyzing challenges of keeping their children from starving? How can they reach out to bless the lives of others when so much of their existence is wrapped so tightly around a single question: How will they survive the day?”
Responding to the continual need for employment assistance in international areas, the Church has opened more than 60 employment resource centers around the world during the past five years. In 1998 more than 28,000 people outside the United States and Canada found jobs through one of these centers.
A major emphasis of Church employment during the next five years will be to strengthen the services offered in international areas. New offices will be opened, and senior missionary couples will be sought to serve in international areas. This new initiative will help tens of thousands of job seekers each year find career opportunities. Recently offices have been established in areas such as Recife, Brazil; Manila, Philippines; and Ghana, Africa.
LDS employment resource centers work in three major ways to help people obtain employment: assistance with job placement, job training, and self-employment opportunities.
“By the time we had finished interviewing the person you recommended,” one employer told Ron Buchanan, manager of the Spokane Employment Resource Center, “there simply was no need to look further.” Interestingly enough, the employer was speaking of an applicant who had been looking for work unsuccessfully for months before asking for help from the LDS employment resource center.
This applicant had found a wealth of resources at the LDS employment center. Like tens of thousands of others, he found helpful books, friendly and expert advice, and workshops on a number of topics: résumés, interviewing, finding unlisted jobs, and networking. Volunteers and staff members at the employment centers offer individual counsel on creating a résumé (Brother Buchanan encourages job seekers to put together a portfolio that lists their interests, experience, and abilities) and can help review ways to effectively respond to questions during an interview.
Employment center staff members maintain contacts with local employers and sometimes conduct job fairs that allow applicants and employers to meet face to face in a workshop environment.
If someone does not have the knowledge or skills to obtain and keep a job, LDS employment resource centers can often arrange for the needed training.
Martin, for example, had been living on the streets for over a year and was not active in the Church. When he entered the job preparation program at the employment resource center, the staff helped him enroll in a community-funded program that offered training in a field that interested him. With the help of the employment resource center’s staff, Martin developed his own self-reliance plan that included improving his appearance, getting training in general maintenance, and learning about job-search strategies.
Slowly, a transformation in outlook and appearance took place. He cut his long hair and changed the way he dressed. Martin also began attending church again and volunteered for assignments to help others in the ward. Gradually, the look of desperation and hopelessness on his face gave way to one of inner peace and happiness. Eventually, he was offered a job that fit his needs: maintenance mechanic for a group of apartment buildings. Since then, Martin has been to the temple and is now serving in his elders quorum presidency.
Training offered at employment resource centers varies from area to area, according to local needs and economic conditions. In the Philippines, classes are held in basic computer skills; in Ghana, automotive repair; in the Dominican Republic, small appliance repair. In Ukraine, the critical need is to learn English.
Training is frequently adapted to individual needs. In Guatemala, for example, the staff of the employment resource center focused its collective skills on helping a young mother of two who had been abandoned by her husband. She needed a job but had no work experience. A local dental clinic needed a secretary and dental assistant, but it was essential that applicants have at least a familiarity with office equipment, and the deadline for applications was just three days away.
Undaunted, the staff at the employment center gave the woman a crash course in everything from interviewing skills to how to operate a computer and fax machine. She was hired, but for weeks afterward, each time she was asked to do something she was unfamiliar with, she called the employment center and a member of the staff talked her through the steps. After three months, she had gained the confidence and happiness of knowing that she could support herself and her children without the need of help from others.
In many areas of the world, the best and sometimes only employment options are those that allow job seekers to develop their own small businesses. LDS employment resource centers can help those interested in self-employment develop a business plan and find needed resources.
José Montemayor, 29, of Monterrey, Mexico, with polio-weakened legs and a speech impediment, dreamed of going into business for himself. He began attending a class sponsored by the LDS employment resource center that taught self-reliance and effective work skills. It also offered information and help for those interested in starting or expanding their own small business. As he began looking for ways to make his dream become a reality, he was offered a job in a small wood shop owned by a Church member. With the confidence and income he gained from that experience, José ultimately set up a small shop in his home where he creates wood furniture.
Hundreds of others have been helped in similar ways. Sometimes a family needs a little “seed money,” enough to buy a sewing machine, a few chickens, electronic testing equipment, or a small oven. In these cases, the LDS employment resource centers can often introduce them to people in reliable organizations that offer low-interest loans as well as training to help them begin or improve their businesses.
More than 400 people currently serve as volunteers or missionaries at LDS employment resource centers around the world—people like Bob and Dorothea Marks. After missions in the Seattle Washington Temple and a mission among Native Americans in the Dakotas, they thought a mission in the employment resource center would be mundane—little more than paper shuffling. Six months later, their opinions had changed completely. “I have done more in six months to help people in a significant way than at any other time in my life,” Sister Marks commented. Her husband added: “The people who come here are so eager, so willing to work, so grateful for the kindness you extend to them. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world.”
Raylene Dennis, a volunteer at the center in Sacramento, California, recalls that following a serious car accident and the death of her mother, “I found myself in a very deep depression. After the recovery of my physical injuries I came to work here and, through service to others and through the blessings of the Lord, I have discovered healing.”
As employment resource centers expand around the world, many more missionaries and volunteers will be needed. Frederick Odero of Nairobi, Kenya, expresses the gratitude that so many feel toward those who give of their time in this way to help others. He writes: “When I told my aging parents about your mission as employment experts, they praised God for His miraculous works—having sent you all the way across oceans to Kenya.”
While the work of Church employment centers is significant, it is intended to serve primarily as a support to the priesthood quorums and Relief Societies in the Church. “The key to success for [the employment] system,” taught President Howard W. Hunter, “lies not with the few full-time staff, but with the ward Welfare Services committees and the … quorums. … Our quorums should identify those who need work or who need to upgrade work, and then do all they can to help their members find employment opportunities.”5
Stakes like the Salt Lake Parleys Stake are examples. When a member of that stake is in need of a job, a task force is assembled to help that individual in the job search. Relief Society or quorum leaders and the ward employment specialist are asked to join together as a special council for the job seeker. They review skills, experience, aptitudes, and desires and ultimately come up with a plan to find the ideal job. They network with personal contacts to try to discover available positions. Until a new job is found, they serve as coaches, advisers, and mentors for the individual seeking for work.
This approach is in line with counsel given by President Harold B. Lee when he helped initiate the welfare system of the Church several years before his call as a General Authority: “All Priesthood quorums are … ‘commanded’ [by the Lord] to marshal their forces and, under the spirit and power of the Priesthood, to see to it that every person who is in distress is assisted by his quorum to become self-sustaining.”6
The blessings that come through this opportunity to eat our bread by the sweat of our brow are important to the well-being of every individual. “If we want to keep the Spirit,” said President Ezra Taft Benson, “we must work. There is no greater exhilaration or satisfaction than to know, after a hard day of work, that we have done our best.” He also said, “Energetic, purposeful work leads to vigorous health, praiseworthy achievement, a clear conscience, and refreshing sleep.”7
It is the ongoing mission of LDS Employment Services to help bring these blessings into the lives of people who need them.