A Leap of Faith: How Cheriese Lindsey Went From a Low-Wage Job to a Career

Lindsey discovered that developing a new skills set opens doors of opportunity.

Posted: 05/02/2013 01:35 PM EDT

(Photo: Brittney Carden)

Just a few years ago, as millions of Americans struggled to hold onto their jobs, Cincinnati, Ohio, resident Cheriese Lindsey walked away from hers as a hotel housekeeper.

"It was a really crappy job," she said. "So I decided to take a leap of faith so I could build a career."

Initially Lindsey relied on government assistance for housing, food and health care, and took what she described as "odds and ends" work with temporary jobs firms to provide for herself and her young son.

"I wasn't skilled enough to get a job that paid enough to get off of assistance. Nobody was hiring or those that were weren't offering enough hours to make it worth taking the job," Lindsey said.

Then she saw a flyer about the Urban League of Greater Cincinnati's Construction Connections program, which she hoped would enable her to get a work as a laborer. During the eight-week program, participants learned how to read blueprints, speak industry jargon, operate hand tools and drive a Bobcat. They also received OSHA 1 training.

After receiving her certificate, Lindsey figured she'd get a laborer's job just doing what she was told. What she ended up with was beyond her wildest dreams. 

The job she ultimately landed was an on-site construction administrator for CORE Resources Inc., which was overseeing the redevelopment of Washington Park, a site known for criminal activity that also served as a haven for homeless people.

"I didn't expect them to hire me and at first felt kind of out of place being a woman and African-American," she said, because there weren't many people who look like her working in construction or in positions like the one she had. "A lot of people go to school for this."

That made the job even more daunting, because despite the training she'd received from the Urban League program, there was still a lot to learn.

"It made me feel kind of small, but also honored to be in a position to be learning new things," Lindsey said. "I spent a lot of time in the library and on the internet to learn as much as I could. [Co-workers] were very willing to help me, but I didn't want to take away from the time they needed for their own work."

And it paid off. Fourteen months in, she was offered a permanent position and a promotion to construction management officer working in commercial development for the firm 3CDC.

"I know the construction part; now I'm learning the management part," she said, but not feeling quite so "small" this time around.

Mostly everyone Lindsey knows is unemployed, in part because they don't have the skills the job market is looking for and also because of the fear that they can't survive without the government safety net. They worry that the low-wage jobs for which they are qualified will de-qualify them for certain benefits like Section 8 housing that they need to ensure there's a roof over their heads.

"At one point in time I did kind of feel like that but was willing to go against the odds and take a chance to get out of that," she said. "I'm trying to be an example to people to show that's not the only option they have."

Lindsey started tutoring at a school in a rough neighborhood where families are struggling as she once did and also is trying to motivate the adults in her life who are afraid to take that risk.

"Their families are in the same situation and I'm trying to show them that, hey, it doesn't have be like this," she said.

As her experience has shown, if you're willing to "go against the odds you can get not just a job, but a career with a salary."

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