Shaliyah Ali vividly remembers passing the headquarters of Prudential Financial Inc. in Newark, New Jersey, as a teenager, and always wondered what must have been going on behind the glass doors of the towering building.
She wasn’t really thinking about insurance or finance as a career. Nevertheless, she was inquisitive about what must be going on inside that large corporate building.
“Just a whole bunch of curiosity,” 28-year-old Ali said. “As you see the men and women exiting and entering the building dressed in business attire, it’s just interesting. What are they doing in life? How did you get a role there? How do you get on the other side of the glass doors?”
Ali didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do when she grew up, but she knew she wanted to make a better life for herself than the one she currently had. The Newark native was raised in a single-parent household and, as her mother worked two jobs to support the family, Ali was often responsible for taking care of her two younger siblings.
“I can recall times where it was kind of hard for my mom to make ends meet. So knowing that that could possibly be my reality, I figured that’s not something I wanted for myself and/or for my family,” Ali told The Epoch Times.
She was smart and hard-working, but like a lot of teenagers and young adults in similar circumstances, she just needed an opportunity.
Ali was determined to get a college degree. However, after two years of study she had to put college on hold when she became pregnant with her first child.
The dream of higher education and a professional career didn’t end, though. After three years of taking care of her growing family, the mom-of-two was determined to get back into the workforce.
She had a New Year’s tradition where she would sit down and map out what she wanted to achieve during the coming year. For 2015, she made a tri-fold vision board out of cardboard, and pasted positive self affirmations and photos of her goals on it, things like travel, college textbooks, and a successful career.
“I tend to truly believe in putting into the universe what you want back out of it,” Ali said. “If that’s just me reading some positive affirmations on the daily, or if that’s being kind to the world and being kind to others, I try to do my part with that.
“By creating the vision board, it seemed like things started to get rolling. At that point, I didn’t know that, but towards the end of the year I realized there’s some power to the vision board.”
A Big Opportunity
It took a few months, but in the late summer of 2015, her call to the universe seemed to be answered—though she didn’t recognize it immediately.
Ali saw an advertisement for something called Workforce Opportunity Services. She had been up late one night, perusing Craigslist, when she saw the posting. The ad was offering a work-study program with a stipend, free IT training, and a job placement at a Fortune 500 company.
“I just said to myself, ‘Oh, this is too good to be true.’ By tomorrow morning someone would have marked it as spam and it would have been removed,” Ali recalled.
But when she checked the next morning the advertisement was still there so she went for it.
As she found out, Workforce Opportunity Services (WOS) exists to help talented people from low-income and veteran communities get a foot in the door at global corporations looking to diversify their workforce.
“These individuals are fully capable of doing what many who have Master’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees [can do]; they are fully capable. You give them the education, you give them the financial undergird, and they will perform,” WOS client service manager Valerie Echols told The Epoch Times.
“We are there to give them that opportunity, an opportunity that they would probably never get.”
Behind the Glass Doors
When Ali turned up to the rigorous selection process, WOS staff quickly realized Ali’s potential.
“We knew from the offset she would do well,” said Echols, who would go on to become Ali’s mentor. “Shaliyah was always a star performer no matter where she was or what she was doing.”
Ali started in August 2015. After three months of full-time classes at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in IT, business and corporate communication, and corporate culture, Ali started her part-time work placement at a familiar yet strange place: Prudential.
Once all the classes were completed, she became a full-time consultant in the IT procurement department. At this point it was up to her to prove over the next six months to a year that she should be hired full time—what she describes as “the longest job interview you ever go on.”
Given the opportunity, she rose to the challenge.
“Because she put the right energy behind it she was able to excel. And she was hungry. And so she dived for more and she dived for more,” Echols said. “She just seized it and she took it on. And she does it humbly.”
Juggling school, work, and raising two young children was a lot to handle, but Ali continued to persevere.
“There were times when we first started working at Prudential, and I had to drop off a sick child at daycare. Part of me felt like I should actually stay home and parent, but then the other part of me was like ‘well, here’s your opportunity, you’re just going to go for it, and he’s in good hands with his childcare provider, and everything will work out,'” Ali recalled.
She worked diligently, and received the hands-on experience and qualifications in information technology required to potentially be hired full-time. Her mentor continued to encourage Ali as she pushed her boundaries.
“I can’t take any credit for who Shaliyah is and what she did, because it really is inherent in her personality, it’s inherent in who she is as a person as a result of her childhood and as a result of who she actually sees herself to be. And she’s always had dreams for herself there’s no question of that,” Echols said.
“A lot of times it takes someone who believes in them to help them pull all of that out, and I believe in her.”
After 15 months of hard work, Ali got a phone call from human resources on Feb. 27, 2017. They wanted to hire her on full-time at Prudential in their information technology department.
“When they offered me the position I was just excited,” Ali said. “I achieved a milestone that I had been looking at for so long.”
And she recently got a promotion.
Ali says that there were two important life lessons she learned through the whole process: “One, not everything on Craigslist is a scam. And two, never pass up on an opportunity to make yourself or your life better.”
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