Overcoming Obstacles To Work

(This is the 4th post in our 2018 "Celebrating Work" series. Each week we're highlighting a different theme about work and asking YOU to help contribute. Join in and let us know your perspective on work!)

“Why don’t they just get a job?”

We’ve all heard this before. Or—maybe—we’ve even uttered it ourselves. We see an individual or group of people hanging out in the street, or sitting idly at the park in the middle of the work week, and we wonder why they’re not working. Maybe they’re holding up a sign with the words, “Unemployed. Hungry. Anything helps.” Maybe we even offer them some change.

Then we think, “There are plenty of jobs out there! They just need to pull themselves together, quit being lazy, and just DO IT!”

Is it really that easy? Based on the individuals we’ve met in Jobs for Life classes around the country, the answer is—more often than not—no.

Last night, we celebrated the midway point of the Jobs for Life (JfL) class we’re hosting in downtown Raleigh, NC. At the beginning of the class, each student stood up and spoke about their dreams and their career goals. They also shared about some of the obstacles that are keeping them from either finding employment or advancing in their careers. In the JfL curriculum, we call the job search process a “journey”, and the obstacles preventing one from advancing on the journey “roadblocks.”

Here are just a few of the employment roadblocks that were mentioned in the class:

  • Criminal record
  • Mental illness
  • Lack of experience
  • Transportation
  • Childcare
  • Lack of confidence
  • Age
  • Anxiety

We’ve learned that finding a job IS a job. And if you have to face any of the barriers above (and in some cases, several at the same time), the job search becomes even more daunting. The hill before you quickly turns into a mountain, and a seemingly impossible one to trek.

So far in our “Celebrating Work” series, we’ve learned that God has created each of us to work, and has given us the gift of work. Work is good, and helps us discover our purpose, dignity, and value. We’ve also learned that it’s important for each of us to find meaningful work—not just a job that pays well so we can survive and take care of ourselves and our family, but a job and career where we also feel fulfilled, respected, and feel like we’re contributing to something greater in our community and in society. For many in this country however, finding good employment is an extremely difficult task due to the high barriers they face.

In addition to the roadblocks mentioned above (which we are specifically addressing in our current JfL class), here’s a longer list of employment barriers we know individuals in other JfL classes around the country are facing:

  • Domestic violence
  • Drug and/or alcohol abuse
  • Lack of education
  • Housing issues or homelessness
  • Ineffective job search skills
  • Language barriers
  • Long-term welfare recipient
  • Gaps in employment
  • Physical health issues
  • Learning disabilities
  • Suspended driver’s license
  • Legal problems
  • Social isolation
  • Financial issues/Debt
  • Illiteracy
  • Appearance / Lack of personal hygiene

How can a job seeker find, let alone maintain, employment if they are homeless and are without consistent housing? Just landing a job interview is next to impossible for individuals suffering from significant mental or physical disabilities. Someone enslaved by drugs or alcohol may be able to obtain employment, but may find it difficult to advance at their job. These roadblocks can lead to a heavy mental strain on a person, contributing to a dangerous cycle of unemployment/underemployment and emotional and spiritual poverty.

For those of us called to help the unemployed and underemployed in our communities, it’s crucial that we begin to identify these roadblocks, and understand what our neighbors are dealing with in their lives. Addressing unemployment is more than just helping someone improve their resumé and communication skills, it involves tackling issues that may be obvious—such as lack of transportation or homelessness—and others that are not as clear—such as trauma, depression, and anxiety.

The good news is: these roadblocks can be overcome! We have seen this happen first-hand. As we say in the Jobs for Life class, the road (our employment journey) doesn't end when we encounter a roadblock, it keeps going. But we must address the specific obstacles standing in our way, understand what they are and why they're there, and then determine the resources (including people and community!) required and the steps we need to take to overcome them. 

(Next week we will be focusing more on the specific ways our communities can come together to address employment roadblocks.)

As mentioned above, we’ve met so many incredible men and women through Jobs for Life, and have gotten a bigger glimpse into the roadblocks that they, and millions of others in this country and around the world, face on a daily basis that prevent them from finding and keeping a good job. We invite you to read their stories below, and learn what they (and their communities), did to help them overcome their obstacles to work:


Now we want to hear from you! What employment roadblocks are individuals in your community facing? What roadblocks have you encountered in YOUR search for employment? And how are you and your neighbors overcoming these obstacles to work? Share your story in the comments below, or share your comment on this Facebook post.


About The Author

Alex Ford

Alex Ford, Marketing and Communications Manager

Alex grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina, later moving to Raleigh where he earned his degree in Graphic Design from the College of Design at North Carolina State University. He now works at Jobs for Life, where he is able to combine his love for design and marketing with his passion for community development and serving those in need. Alex lives in Raleigh with his beautiful wife, Caroline, and spends his free time playing basketball, hiking, and volunteering at Neighbor to Neighbor in downtown Raleigh.


Alex Ford
Thanks for sharing, Bob! I definitely agree with what you've said here. I'm guilty of making these judgements as well! Your perspective totally changes once you sit at the same table and hear the voices and stories of those struggling with overcoming roadblocks to employment. Being involved with Jobs for Life has helped transform my thinking and helped me really see people for who God created them to be. Thankful you are a part of this journey with us!
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Bob Wall
I confess to being one of those who sees someone with a sign looking for work, or sitting midday in a park, or walking aimlessly around a neighborhood and thinking to myself, "With so many places looking for good employees today, how come these people aren't working!" It took an introduction to Jobs for Life to begin to realize the real reasons for the people I often saw. I couldn't even envision the kind of roadblocks they faced until JfL brought them to life and into my consciousness. I have basically been a person of privilege throughout my life (comparatively, though I have faced my own demons as well), so the whole topic of roadblocks took on new meaning and importance. In effect, my own experience was a roadblock to keep from seeing the roadblocks in other's lives! I've still got a way to go in my own journey, but JfL continues to play a major role in shaping and directing it! Thanks JfL!
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