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Q&A: Holloway wants to remove barriers, boost workforce diversity

Joe Deacon
Carl Holloway

As Peoria area leaders stress workforce development, MAY-I Community Outreach executive director Carl Holloway wants to see more effort to improving equity and taking down barriers to employment.

Holloway is executive director of MAY-I Community Outreach, and he served as one of the panelists for the workforce development session at the recent Peoria Big Table event.

Reporter Joe Deacon talks with Holloway about his efforts toward improving access to the workforce.

This transcript has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Joe Deacon: You named your organization “MAY-I Community Outreach.” What does that stand for?

Carl Holloway: It's “Motivating Adults And Youth, Individually,” and I say the word, “May I,” because I asked God for permission before I started this outreach five years ago.

What does the outreach do then, and how do you go about doing it?

Holloway: Well, actually, in essence, we're working with individuals that are disadvantaged: People that have barriers as far as employment, individuals that are coming home from incarceration. We're working with individuals between the ages of 18 and 24, helping them get employment. Also we’re working with individuals 55 and older, getting over their barriers as far as their age and being discriminated against and trying to help them get a job.

This panel, obviously, was discussing workforce development and how to grow and build more jobs and make them more accessible. How do you see that happening in the Peoria region?

Holloway: I think we need to step away from the traditional hiring practices and start working on non-traditional ways, as far as making sure that the job that they're looking for is accessible to individuals that may not have the exact education that they're looking for, but may have the experience that they're looking for. An individual with 10 years of experience in an office, I think that person would be eligible for an administrative assistant's job, instead of the individual that just got out of college, has a degree (and) has no experience in that area, but they were chosen over the individual that has the 10 years and has the experience and has the compassion for what they do. So, I think they should take a look at some of the individuals that are more experienced and just don't have quite the education.

You’ve mentioned also that you're working with people who are being re-entered into the community. What kind of challenges does that present, and how can you get more employers to be more open-minded about their hiring practice?

Holloway: I think they should give individuals a chance and look past their barrier. You have individuals that haven't been in trouble since 1999; they sold a bag of crack or coke or heroin or whatever the situation was, they went and did 20 years, and now they're looking for employment. So, the background that they can't get past is still hindering them from getting a job. Now a person that’s unemployed and desperate, he's going to make desperate moves. So we don't need that. It's not going to help the workforce environment if we keep allowing individuals that are capable of working, but we don't allow them to work in certain areas or in any areas.

Along with that then, this would go a long way toward eradicating some of the poverty in the area, correct?

Holloway: Absolutely. A man that doesn't work, doesn't eat. So, if you have more people not eating than you do working, then there's going to be a problem in the community. Period.

So what steps do you see Peoria or the region trying to take in this effort to try and improve workforce development?

Holloway: Taking a step back and re-observing some of their traditional hiring practices, and then taking a look at individuals that might be 90% qualified for a position, but they're missing that piece of paper (a diploma or degree). Start looking at these individuals and then deciding: 'Do you need a bachelor's degree to answer the phone? Do you need a bachelor's degree to be an administrative assistant? Do I need a bachelor's degree to be a customer service representative?'

Let's start being a little more realistic and start taking a non-traditional approach instead of the traditional way, because something's not working. If you got an employment base — there's 500 people at the company, but you only got 200 people working, but there's enough work for 500. Where's the other 300? Are you not hiring the other 300, or are they not qualified, or are you stuck in your ways?

What would you say to the issues right now where you're seeing maybe staffing issues at certain service-type industries, and the message that people are putting out there that there are more jobs available than there are workers that want to take these jobs? Do you see that as an issue, and how do you combat that issue?

Holloway: Well, I think they should open up another population, consider another population. Like I said, we're working with individuals 55 and older, and I'm working with individuals that are coming out of incarceration. Those two populations, they're having a hard time getting employment. Those are the people that are getting shut down, they're getting told no.

I've got 55-year-old dishwashers, with some accreditations or they have some skill, but they don't have the exact qualification that they need for a better-paying position. So, they end up working three part-time jobs: dishwasher, bus boy and maybe a crossing guard or something like that. That's not going to make ends meet. I think we should consider or looking at some non-traditional ways and being creative in our hiring practice, because the good old way is not working.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.