A Community-Centered Jobs Strategy

by Laurie S. Goldman, Ph.D
Member, Jobs for Somerville

First Source staff greet job seekers at job fairSomerville Community Corporation’s affordable housing production is helping many low- and moderate-income families remain in the city. But even recent victories over inclusionary zoning won’t be enough for everyone to afford to stay in Somerville. As the development surge raises housing costs, people need increasingly higher incomes to pay the rent or buy a home. 

Fortunately, new jobs are coming our way. The City predicts that development will bring 30,000 new jobs to Somerville by the year 2030. Yet many longtime residents will not benefit from those opportunities unless barriers to employment are dismantled. 

First Source: Good Jobs for Our Community

The First Source Jobs Program is a partnership between SCC, the City of Somerville and local employers. It embodies SCC’s community-based approach to securing good jobs for the people who most need them. Community is central to the program in four respects. 

First Source is a community-driven program. Organized residents came up with the idea to create the program. SCC members organized to ensure that current residents would benefit from the development of Assembly Square. Jobs for Somerville committee called for jobs that paid enough to make a living wage and were close enough to home to have a life, with time for family and community involvement.The 

Ikea, the primary developer at the time, met their demands with a commitment to hire Somerville residents and a promise for funding to help connect them to those jobs. Several years later, the First Source Jobs Program was born. 

Providing Access and Opportunity

First Source serves the entire community. The program helps recent immigrants, people of color, and others with barriers to employment overcome the hurdles to employment. Case managers create career action plans to connect every resident with wrap around services such as child care, English learning or financial literacy classes, job training programs, and other supports to help them find and maintain employment. There services are especially valuable, as even traditional training programs can have barriers to employment. First source helps people to overcome those potential roadblocks with multilingual workshops providing additional skills in resume writing, interviewing and on-the-job communication.

First Source adopts a community approach, one that is grounded in relationships with residents, employers, local organizations and other community members. Program staff works with job seekers to discover their strengths and to convey them with confidence to prospective employers.

Staff also forges relationships with employers both to understand their hiring needs and to show them the value of hiring program participants who are still learning English and developing skills. Through these connections, many First Source employers are helping to strengthen the program and become true collaborators, as they understand the important role that they can play in advancing employment opportunities for the people of Somerville. 

Partnerships with local organizations provide participants with the training they need to secure good jobs. Residents will gain access to construction jobs thanks to collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and pre-apprenticeship program Building Pathways. Somerville High School and the City are partners in a manufacturing training program. Other partners include The Welcome Project, CPR Boston, the Matahari Women Workers’ Center, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, SCALE and The Career Center.   

First Source also connects residents with one another. Community members lend their skills to help job seekers prepare resumes and practice interviewing. Workshops not only provide guidance for finding work and succeeding on the job; they are also a place for mutual support and for hearing the motivational stories of those who have found jobs and earned promotions.  

Building Relationships and Power

Finally, First Source is part of SCC’s efforts to build community power. Jobs for Somerville continues to engage in the program it inspired. Its members educate program participants about their rights to fair wages and benefits. And program participants are joining campaigns to fight for more and better jobs for all of Somerville and throughout Massachusetts. 

Tbs for Somerville organizers in vivid blue shirtsgiving testimony at City Hallhey’re giving testimony at City Hall to secure ongoing funding for the program, and they’re backing a state bill to establish a Somerville Municipal Job Creation and Retention Trust. They’re joining the Union United coalition to advocate for a community benefits agreement with the Union Square developer that includes commitments to hire residents, ensure living wages, and provide job training opportunities. They’re collecting signatures to support paid sick leave and the “Fair Share” ballot initiative that will require millionaires to pay higher taxes.

Jobs for Somerville believes that all Somerville residents, particularly low-income residents, immigrants and others with barriers to employment, should have access to good jobs. Through tireless organizing, Jobs for Somerville is helping to bring livable wage jobs with good benefits and the potential for solid advancement to the city's residents, improving the community for everyone.

Laurie S. Goldman teaches social policy and public and nonprofit management at Tufts University’s Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning.