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GOSHEN -- He has skills. She needs work done. They connect.
Getting money moving within Elkhart County can be as simple as that, said Dave Schrock-Shenk, founder of Elkhart County Works Together, a group of unemployed and under-employed people who try to support other unemployed and under-employed people, whether it's by providing food or networking.
Using that logic, the grassroots organization is unveiling its new online skills bank next week. The skills bank, which will have a home on ECWT's Web site, www.ecwt.org, will allow users looking for work to list their skills (i.e. oil changes, carpet cleaning, piano lessons, baking Christmas cookies) and contact information. People interested in hiring someone can, likewise, visit the Web site and search for potential workers based on the skills required for the job.
The exchange will only result in temporary or one-time work, and not a job or career, but any work available is important, Schrock-Shenk said.
Schrock-Shenk said it's similar to the idea of a classified ad, but it allows for networking and custom searches. He said unemployed people often rely on inconsistent odd jobs to help pay bills.
"Can we systemize that, so it's not just by chance and by whim?" he said.
He said the creators hope it will help create work that people would have otherwise done themselves or not done at all. While that will obviously cost the person hiring some money, it will free up his or her time and help out someone who needs work.
This way of thinking is what got some unemployed and under-employed residents some work taking apart a garage that had caught fire not far from the ECWT office. Schrock-Shenk said the man who owned the garage originally planned to rent a backhoe to clean up the mess, until Schrock-Shenk suggested that he use the same amount of money to hire people to clean it up by hand.
It would take longer, but it would give work to people who needed it.
Kelly Acker, a volunteer for ECWT, said she thinks the skills bank has the potential to connect people from all over Michiana. It could introduce someone from Goshen to someone from Nappanee, and someone from Middlebury to someone from Elkhart. And connections are what get people jobs.
"I really am thinking that this is something that can really break up our own networks, so to speak," Acker said.
Schrock-Shenk said he does want people to be cautious with who they hire for certain jobs. For example, most people wouldn't hire a babysitter without at least getting a list of trusted references. And people should never hire someone to do a job that requires a license if they don't have one, he said. That's why the list of skills on the Web site are more odd jobs rather than professions.
"We don't want the people who are still in business doing these things to be put out of business," he said.
The group still needs volunteers to help man the skills bank. Acker said people could even just volunteer while they are waiting for work, and Schrock-Shenk said volunteering helps keep skills fresh. Volunteering also provides an opportunity for networking, said Gerry Hertzler, publicity director for ECWT .
The skills bank is the latest of creative solutions to unemployment to come out of ECWT, Hertzler said. The group has already run a community garden program, which offers people free garden plots and seeds to grow food. It holds job networking meetings every Thursday morning.
Schrock-Shenk said unemployment drastically changes people's attitudes toward work, and ECWT is trying to help people rely on a network of relationships to produce work while the market can't.
He said to many working people, the need to work for food is seen as a curse.
"All of a sudden, you'll learn that work is a blessing," he said.