Community Partners: Ridge Schuyler, PVCC and the Charlottesville Works Initiative

Ridge Schuyler

Ridge Schuyler is the Dean of Community Self-Sufficiency Programs at Piedmont Virginia Community College. That’s a long title for a guy who just wants, above all, to make Charlottesville-Albemarle a better place to live.

“I want to find the people who are being left behind in our economy and connect them to a real live opportunity in our community,” he said. “It all starts with a job.”

Ridge leads the Charlottesville Works Initiative, where jobs are listed by employers and well-connected peers in the community are trained to identify job candidates. “We are using a recruitment method instead of a marketing method.” Built on a model that works in politics, leveraging the social networks of well-connected people talking to their friends. “Instead of talking about political candidates, we’re talking about jobs.”

There are 5,550 families in the Charlottesville-Albemarle area who do not make enough to live here. That’s a whopping 17% of the population. Ridge said that his dream is to “move the needle” for people in this area through job availability, training and assistance to help people get and retain those jobs, and affordable housing so people don’t spend more than half their pay on rent.

The Charlottesville Works Initiative operates on leveraging three social networks: Employers, Job Seekers, and Providers.

“Come to find out,” Ridge said, “Piedmont Housing Alliance fits into all three networks.” And thus, a meaningful partnership was created.

Any of Piedmont Housing Alliance’s clients who are eligible to work fit into the job seeker network. Charlottesville Works offers training to peers, identified as connected people within the community. Piedmont Housing employee and Friendship Court Community Organizer Claudette Grant is the perfect example of such a peer.

“Claudette, as a trained peer, gets job descriptions from the employer network, then thinks about who she knows in the community who would be good at the job. She is able to make the connections between job and employee by having real relationships with people in the community,” said Ridge.

“Sometimes people are in such financial crisis that it gets in the way of them pursuing a new or better job. Piedmont Housing’s counselors Shelley Murphy and Virginia Leary help the workforce members of our community get the financial counseling help they need so they can focus on the training they need to attain to get better jobs.”

Piedmont Housing is a member of the employer network as well. As a property manager, it needs employees to perform facility maintenance. Charlottesville Works provided access to HVAC training and certification so the employees could learn more skills, and earn more money. “That’s a win for everybody.”

“As Piedmont Housing moves into the redevelopment of Friendship Court, the contractor will be trying to find workers to hang drywall. We can work with the contractors to connect with the employees within the peer network. We help them figure out childcare, health issues, transportation, GED, certifications, and financial issues so that employees are ready to work,” said Ridge.