Breaking Ground 92 - Career Connections

by Jennifer Eppley

It all began in 2015 when Kendrise Colebrooke met Robbie Broom at the Knox Area Employment Consortium (KAEC). Kendrise is the Community Employment Coordinator for Breakthrough Corporation (a disability service provider in Knoxville, primarily serving clients with autism), and Robbie is a Career Specialist with the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, stationed at the American Job Center in Knoxville.

American Job Centers are designed as a “one stop” place for assistance finding a job and they exist in communities across every state. In 2014, the federal law creating American Job Centers, which is called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act, was updated to put an even greater emphasis on serving people with disabilities.

Robbie joined KAEC to better serve individuals with disabilities by connecting them to employment services and opportunities. The KAEC mission is to “improve the quality of life and general welfare for people with disabilities as it relates to employment issues”. Robbie let Kendrise know that the American Job Center was the main meeting place in their community for personal job development activities, especially mock interviews and résumé writing. What began as a brief first connection at a local employment consortium meeting blossomed into a relationship with the American Job Center which has increased services and opportunities for Breakthrough participants, and which continues to expand.

The current picture

Those initial contacts have developed into a real presence for Breakthrough Corporation at the American Job Center. Breakthrough’s Sheliia Williams connects with many of her participants for job search meetings at the American Job Center.  She sees three to four participants each day, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  In addition to providing individualized employment coaching and counseling to  participants, she connects them with single-company and multi-employer job fairs held each month at the American Job Center and helps them get assistance in the Center’s Resource Room.   

Sheliia also encourages participants to explore the website on the days that they are not working or volunteering. That helps participants to practice checking emails and exploring job opportunities on a regular basis. Through, participants are able to expand their potential employment opportunities and further develop their career exploration skills.

In addition to individual assistance, help in a group format is also available.  Breakthrough Job Club has expanded from one to two times per month, and is typically held every other Friday afternoon. The sessions are conducted in a smaller assessment room with limited distractions for a more suitable sensory environment. Parents and staff often attend the Job Clubs with the participants.

Growth for the future

As an added layer of support, Sheliia is planning to attend one of Robbie’s Jobs4TN intensive workshops for social service providers. This two-hour training provides tips and tools for social service providers to assist them in better guiding their participants in career exploration. Instructive guidelines include registering, searching for jobs, using the virtual recruiter, researching labor market information and exploring education and training information and opportunities.

Kendrise believes that the change in environment and exposure to opportunities at the American Job Center is a positive for Breakthrough participants.  By coming to the American Job Center, Breakthrough participants are able to see other people looking for employment, too, and thus join others in the overall goal of career exploration, development and attainment.  

For more information or resources, please contact:

Knoxville Area Employment Consortium:

Breakthrough Corporation, Knoxville:

American Job Center, Knoxville:

American Job Center employment resources and services:

Jennifer Eppley is the Director of One Stop Operations at the American Job Center in Knoxville. The following individuals also contributed to this article: Robbie Broom (American Job Center), Kendrise Colebrooke (Breakthrough Corporation), Sheliia Williams (Breakthrough Corporation), and Jay Coffman (American Job Center).