The pandemic has left millions of Americans unemployed. Meanwhile, health and safety restrictions have made job-hunting more challenging than ever.

But organizations such as Jewish Community Services’ Ignite Career Center, formerly the JCS Career Center, are stepping up to help jobseekers with new features and resources.

In addition, groups such as The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore’s Jewish Professional Women are providing networking opportunities for women seeking business contacts, continuing education and ideas to advance their careers.

Lisa Gorman, senior manager of career services at Ignite, says the center’s new name and website are meant to support prospective employees, whether they’re new college graduates or senior executives.

“Our tag-line is, ‘Go further, get there faster,’” says Gorman, noting that the pandemic offers certain benefits to job applicants despite the hardships. She says the crisis has “broadened and expanded who you can work for [since many jobs are now virtual]. … You can work anywhere in the United States.”

Educating job applicants about networking techniques is an important part of Ignite’s services, says Gorman.

“We teach people how to use LinkedIn effectively,” she says. “We look at what your network is, how to use that network and how to expand it. During COVID-19, so much of it is virtual networking using social media. With so many at home, virtual networking is easier and people are more open to hearing from jobseekers.”

Gorman says she and her colleagues have spent a lot of time “getting to know various industries and finding out who’s hiring.” Currently, she says there are many openings in customer service, health care, administration, technology, financial services, sanitation and food service.

Lisa Cohn, an account representative at Ignite, has access to a large database of jobs through which she connects clients to employers.

“I’m on everyone’s side,” she says. “I advocate for the client and the business. I’m kind of like a matchmaker. We really get to know the employer, their vision, work culture, so we can find a good fit.”

Gorman says Ignite is “unique in that we meet people where they are, one-on-one. We’re available all the time and we treat everyone individually. It’s really amazing to have that level of personal coaching.”

One-on-one interactions are also at the heart of what Jewish Professional Women offers its participants. JPW’s co-chairs are Tracee Fruman, assistant attorney general who works in the Medicaid Fraud Unit of the State of Maryland, and Debbie Lubliner, a physical therapist at MedStar Health. Both longtime Associated lay leaders got involved with JPW to build connections with likeminded women professionals.

“JPW is a combination of networking events and speaker talks about issues [of importance to professional women],” says Fruman.

The organization’s signature events include “Letters to My Younger Self,” a program in which local female business leaders share personal reflections and offer professional inspiration to attendees, and the annual LeadHERship event. Last year, Sarah Hurwitz, an author and White House speechwriter, headlined the event.

“We’ve grown tremendously in the last couple of years,” says Lubliner. “Our program is varied and has a big draw. We’ve attracted women of various ages, backgrounds and they’ve stuck around because [the programs] are relevant and interesting.”

Despite the program’s wide appeal, COVID-19 has made the networking aspect of JPW more challenging.

“Recently, we had a committee meeting where we talked about how to network effectively during COVID,” says Lubliner. “Some ideas were to open our events earlier or later to give people time for virtual mingling; to do breakout rooms [on Zoom]; or to organize people by their professions. It’s hard to know what will be most successful.”

At the same time, says Fruman, “because our programs are now virtual, there are some positives. Speaker-wise, there are broader opportunities to invite people because there is no traveling involved. Our preference would be to do our events in person, but we may also reach more [participants] if they don’t have to go out to attend them.”

In January, at a date to be announced, the organization will present a panel discussion about women in finance. The group will also hold its annual LeadHERship event as well as its “Letters to My Younger Self” program in 2021.

“We’re hoping to reach people not previously involved in The Associated or JPW,” says Lubliner, who emphasized that JPW welcomes women of all professional backgrounds.

For information about JPW, contact Rebecca Brown at rbrown@associated.@simone_ellin

For more information about the Ignite Career Center, visit ignitecareercenter.com.