Nearly 20K North Georgians find jobs annually via Goodwill
Career centers help companies connect with potential employees.
While Goodwill is well known for collecting donations at its many locations in Roswell and across the U.S., Goodwill North Georgia is also known for making the most of connecting employers with job seekers, many of whom the Goodwill career centers have helped prepare for interviews and landing a job. AJC FILE
Goodwill North Georgia President and CEO Keith Parker said a job is critical to someone not returning to the criminal justice system. COURTESY


Diego Hernandez-Millan is doing something he never thought possible: He is making car parts.

“I grab the material – big, small or medium in size – put it on the welding machine and package them,” the 18-year-old Canton resident said. “When (I heard about) the job it wasn’t something that interested me, but learning how to do it, it’s actually something I like.”

Hernandez-Millan learned his trade at Goodwill North Georgia career centers. The nonprofit, which connects employers with job seekers, invests $20 million annually in training and employment services, President and CEO Keith Parker said. Last year, the nonprofit served nearly 50,000 job seekers in coaching and training, helping almost 20,000 get hired, according to the organization.

Goodwill North Georgia has 13 career centers providing training and certifications in areas ranging from health care to technology to construction. If Hernandez-Millan, who graduated from high school last May, wanted to learn to drive a forklift at his job, training at a career center would be an option.

“We train people to be a good worker,” Parker said. “For many who come through our doors, we show them how to be reliable (and help) them understand how they need to set up transportation and childcare.”

Parker says the growing demand for workers is showing employers that hiring people from nontraditional backgrounds can pay off.

The organization has programs designed for entrepreneurs who want help with a business plan or logistics in running their operation; veterans seeking help in transitioning into the civilian workplace; people with criminal records and more.

“Employers are desperate for great, talented people,” Parker said. “We’ve been upfront with employers saying, ‘You might not get staff that have spotless records. You might have to widen your search.’”

Parker said visitors to Goodwill North Georgia career centers often face barriers to entering the job market, such as chronic unemployment or former incarceration, but training via the nonprofit’s programs has resulted in more than 60% moving past entry-level positions when hired, he said.

“We have found even people with criminal records might be some of the most loyal employees,” he said. “The No. 1 factor of a person not returning to the criminal justice system is having a job.”

Vashunan Powell, 46, said he was released from prison in 2014 after serving 14 years for a nonviolent crime. After moving from Albany to Austell last March, Goodwill North Georgia’s career center in Smyrna helped him find long-term temporary work for transportation/delivery company warehouses.

Career center staff helped him with computer skills, how to be professional and dress appropriately, he said.

“They help you with everything,” Powell said. “Job fairs … finding places to live. They are going to be patient with you.”

Goodwill North Georgia operates on a budget of about $178 million, generated by its stores and financial donations.

All profits from Goodwill stores are directed to the career centers, which employ more than 3,000 people, Parker said.

A new 38,000-square-foot center is set to open in January on Metropolitan Parkway in southwest Atlanta. Both the store and career center will be located in a $10 million building where Goodwill expects to employ a staff of about 50 full-time and five parttime people. The organization estimates half of 8,000 annual visitors to the career center will gain employment.

“It’s a big investment in the community,” Elaine Armstrong, vice president of marketing for Goodwill of North Georgia said.

“We’ve been meeting with the neighborhood association and NPU (neighborhood planning unit) to make sure the community knows what we are (building) there.”

Goodwill North Georgia connects such companies as Amazon, Home Depot and Coca-Cola with potential employees. Parker said many employees might have more than one disability.

The organization is hired by the federal government for custodial work in buildings for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies, Parker said.

“We do it at a very competitive level and have everything it takes to run a full-scale custodian type business,” Parker said. “We are in some of the most sensitive areas in the world.”

The CEO said $12 million of the funds dedicated to career centers is directed to this work that employs 225 people. Goodwill’s employee retention rate in this area is more than 90%, he added.

“That’s almost unheard of,” Parker said.