Finding jobs is a work in progress

September 1, 2011 

If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of people who are out of work in L.A. County these days, this won’t come as a big surprise: It’s tough out there.

But as dispiriting as the economic news has been lately, the county has resources to help you get back to work. And, if you’re an employer, it can offer significant assistance as well—including recruiting, screening and training workers, and, in some cases, even helping to subsidize part of new hires’ salaries.

With Labor Day approaching, we took a look at some programs and initiatives aimed at making a dent in L.A. County’s high unemployment rate, currently 12.4%. Some are targeted at specific groups, such as veterans or workers 55 and older. Others focus exclusively on very low-income welfare and general relief recipients. And one upcoming program will turn its attention on those who’ve been laid off just in the past year or so.

“Everybody can use a hand. Everybody needs help,” said Richard Verches, executive director of the Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board, one of a network of such board throughout the county. “The county has resources to help its residents.”

The Los Angeles County Workforce Investment Board recently released a report marking its 10 years of operation and spotlighting success stories over the past decade. But it was as much an occasion for “intense reflection” as for celebration, Chairman Dennis Neder said in a statement. “We are in a critical time of rebuilding our economy as L.A. County has over 600,000 unemployed, and businesses are still skeptical of hiring in this ‘wait and see’ economy.”

Some of the statistics in the report offer an unfiltered snapshot of a difficult decade, noting, for instance, that unemployment in the county more than doubled, from 5.7% in January, 2000, to 12.4% in December, 2009.

Even so, there have been some encouraging developments along the way. The county’s “Transitional Subsidized Employment Program,” geared to helping welfare-to-work clients, used federal stimulus funds to help place more than 11,000 people in subsidized jobs.

“It was the largest program in the country and probably the most successful,” said Jan Vogel, executive director of the South Bay Workforce Investment Board, which worked with the Department of Public Social Services on the initiative. “A lot of people were put to work.”

Luther Evans, DPSS division chief in charge of welfare-to-work policy, said that since the stimulus funding ran out, a new, much smaller scale initiative has been crafted in which employers soon will be offered stipends between $350 and $500 a month to offset their costs of hiring new workers from very low income families.

Another glimmer of hope is on the horizon for recently laid-off workers. Officials soon will launch a $5.7 million on-the-job training program in one or more local industries that have experienced layoffs, Verches said; a similar $2 million grant to the city of Los Angeles is expected to help laid-off teachers and other employees of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Military veterans, meanwhile, can take advantage of a new county-funded veterans employment project, coordinated by Goodwill Industries. The program has served 380 clients since April, with 20 completing training and 17 being placed in jobs so far.

Information on all these specialized programs—and more—is available through the county’s network of “WorkSource” centers, where job-seekers of every background and experience level can get training, resume-writing help, interview coaching and other services.

“These are services that are available for job-seekers and employers,” Verches said. And, given the state of the economy, the price is right: free.

Posted 8/30/11

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