Network2Work, a locally grown program using social circles to connect jobs and people looking for work, is expanding to other parts of Virginia, thanks to a two-year, $1.7 million state investment.
Established by Piedmont Virginia Community College in partnership with the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce in 2016, the program utilizes social influencers — people in the community who are natural leaders and are trusted by others — to connect potential workers with employers who have job openings.
The state support will expand the program through the community college system in the Shenandoah Valley, Hampton Roads and Richmond.
“People across our commonwealth are facing unprecedented and far-reaching impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and challenging times like these call for innovative solutions,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a news release.
“With the expansion of this program, we will get more Virginians back to work, help employers secure the talent they need to thrive, and put our economy in a strong position to rebound from this crisis,” he said.
Network2Work is unique in that employers post on the software network the requirements of jobs they’re trying to fill. Neighborhood-based people in schools, churches and organizations with strong connections to the community help to identify individuals who may fit the job.
Program staff helps the job seeker by connecting the person with organizations offering skills in life management, as well as health resources, nonprofit organizations and human services agencies.
“Our framework is built on a simple premise — a community thrives when its residents thrive,” said Ridge Schuyler, PVCC’s dean of community self-sufficiency programs. “With this exciting expansion, we will be able to help more Virginians realize their full potential by providing them with the connections and support services they need to be successful in the workforce and in their communities.”
Figures quoted by Northam and provided by PVCC show an estimated 85% of those participating in the program found jobs. About 59% of the jobs pay more than $25,000 a year. Around 40% of the program’s participants are single mothers.
The program’s roots go back to 1979 when the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce created the Greater Charlottesville Area Development Corporation in hopes of reducing unemployment and underemployment and eliminating poverty.
In 2011, the development corporation issued the Orange Dot Report, in which consultants, including Schuyler, found 29% of Charlottesville families did not earn enough to pay rent, utilities, food, childcare and transportation.
In 2013, the development corporation hired Schuyler as director of the Charlottesville Works Initiative with the object of developing and implementing the ideas from the report.
The initiative’s 2015 Orange Dot Report 2.0 found 17% of families in Charlottesville and Albemarle County were working but not earning enough to be self-sufficient.
The initiative joined with PVCC as part of the school’s newly formed Division of Community Self-Sufficiency Programs, and in 2017, Network2Work was launched.
In 2018, the division released Orange Dot Report 3.0, which was expanded to include Greene, Louisa, Fluvanna, Buckingham and Nelson counties, in addition to Charlottesville and Albemarle. The study showed about 19% of families in Central Virginia did not earn enough to afford to live.
“The pilot program will help ensure that every Virginian is able to access high-quality employment as we recover from the COVID-19 crisis,” Megan Healy, Virginia’s chief workforce development adviser, said in a statement. “By tapping into local networks of employers, service providers and community-based connectors, the program will demonstrate its ability to meet job seekers where they are.”