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Today's hot new career handbook? The Bible.

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Landing in jail threatened to end Joseph's promising career. But he befriended the warden, won release from Pharaoh, and emerged, as the Bible tells it, to save Egypt from starvation.

It's the kind of journey line that, more or less, Willie Jones is hoping to walk, too. Just released from 16 years in state prison for drug trafficking, Mr. Jones faces employment prospects that he calls insurmountable. But the story of the famous Israelite gives him hope. "I can certainly relate to Joseph - and more," says the heavyset man with a cane and a pale beard.

At Durham's Covenant Presbyterian Church, Jones is one of eight prospective hires - ex-cons and ex-homemakers dressed in their best - learning how to gain confidence and break through personal roadblocks with a biblical bent: a bit of Jeremiah for the jitters, some Noah for uplift, and Joseph for perspective.

They are here because of Jobs for Life, a group based in nearby Raleigh that helps churches and faith-based organizations provide practical job training from a spiritual perspective.

Today, as part of its first national "Bible-to-work" program, Jobs for Life founder Skip Long wants to put 52,000 such tough hires into the workplace next year.

Experts say the decision by Mr. Long to not seek federal money to help chronically unemployed Americans also shows the limits of the White House's efforts to use church groups to help the 15-million-strong US "underclass."

"Religion is very useful in these sorts of life-change programs, because it's saying you're not alone, you get a second chance, and Jesus is with you in that second chance," says University of Michigan economist Rebecca Blank, author of "Do Justice: Linking Christian Faith and Modern Economic Life."

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