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Many struggle to find work

By Kristin Beck

As politicians fight amongst themselves and debate how to fix the economy and create jobs, Larry Green of Madison, Ind., continues to pound the pavement searching for work. Formerly a machinist with Arvin Meritor, he has been unemployed since 2008, and at 61 years old, said he has had trouble finding a job for a man his age. “They don’t want someone that’s got a lot of years,” he said.

Green said he has been looking for jobs through word of mouth in the Madison and Carrollton area. Friday was his first time coming to the Workforce development office in Carrollton for help expanding his job search to online.

Statistics show Kentucky’s seasonally adjusted preliminary unemployment rate held steady at 9.5 percent from July 2011 to August 2011, according to the Office of Employment and Training, an agency with the Kentucky Education and Workforce Development Cabinet. This is a 0.7 percentage drop from the 10.2 percent rate for the state in August 2010 and the lowest since the January 2009 rate of 9.2 percent.

The U.S. seasonally adjusted jobless rate also stayed thesame at 9.1 percent from July 2011 to August 2011, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unemployment statistics are based on estimates and are compiled to measure trends rather than actually to count people working.

The unemployment rate in Carroll County also decreased from 11.9 percent in June 2011 to 11.1 percent in July 2011, according to the Kentucky Labor Force. However, the county remains the highest in Northern Kentucky, with Grant County following at 10.8 percent and Pendleton County at 10.2 percent.

Workforce development facilitator Audra Perkins said between 500-800 people visit the Carroll County office in a month. The number has dropped to about 500-600 since they moved locations at the end of July. The new office is located at 1209 Highland Avenue, Suite E in the Park Lane Shopping Center next to Family Dollar and is open Thursday and Friday only from 8:30 a.m.-4 p.m., closed from 12-1 p.m. for lunch.

“When I first started (almost 10 years ago), it was very slim; we weren’t very busy at all,” she said. Perkins noted that the office was open three days at the time rather than two, but estimated only about 300 people walked through the doors in a month looking for help. In addition to Carroll County job seekers, the office also sees people from Indiana and surrounding counties that do not want to travel to Florence or Louisville and wait in line.

One of the first things Perkins said she encourages job seekers to do is create a resume on the Office of Employment and Training website, www.oet.ky.gov.

“It’s actually required (for those on unemployment), but a lot of people who aren’t on unemployment don’t want to sit down and actually go through and finish it,” she said.

The website also includes information on unemployment insurance, training opportunities and links to available jobs. Once a resume is uploaded, the site will conduct a job search for the job seeker based on their criteria, and if they find a job they are interested in, Perkins can get them the information on how to apply.

Those looking for a job do not have to be receiving unemployment benefits to register as a job seeker with the state.

Perkins said employers will soon be able to post their jobs on the website and peruse the resumes already stored there. There will be a star system set up where if a potential employer sees a person with five stars, meaning they have everything the employer is looking for, the person will be able to apply for the job themselves. The pilot program was set to launch this month, but has been pushed back to at least January, Perkins said.

While the Internet offers many benefits, it also has some pitfalls. “A lot of people that complain now is about the fact that everything has gone online, and they send their resumes and then they don’t get anything back,” Perkins said. “I had this one fella that called it ‘outer space.’ He sends out an email and it goes out to outer space because he doesn’t know if they’ve gotten it or not. I have heard that several times today alone. They’re frustrated because they’re not getting any information back from the employers.”

She said a lot of people she talks to do not have the computer skills or access to computers frequently enough for the new world of online job searching. Frequently, job seekers may have a resume, but it is not saved on disks, so it can’t be uploaded. Perkins said many of them “are older and they think it’s their age that is keeping them from being able to get employed. I tell them they need to get computer skills because a lot of (businesses) are going that way.”

Another resource at the Workforce development center is Career Connections, which works in conjunction with the Brighton Center to distribute available funds to the unemployed looking to further their education. Workforce Investment Act Career Advisor Julie Stewart works at the Grant County office the other three days a week, assisting those living in Carroll, Pendleton, Boone, Kenton, Campbell, Owen, Grant and Gallatin counties.

Through the Workforce Investment Act, the federal government gives money to the states, which in turn give it to agencies to distribute to the unemployed wanting to continue their education in a field in high demand, Stewart said. The recipient has two years to complete their degree, usually an associate’s, with up to $7,000 per year to use. Stewart said she helps those interested with the paperwork and look at schools approved by the Workforce Investment board.

“The problem is, right now, we have very limited funding, and it’s been that way for the last two years,” she said.

Last year there was a waiting list of 100-150 people. “Right now that’s all we can do,” she said. “The money ran out last year and the state applied for an emergency grant. They got that money, so that took a few people off the waiting list and they got to start school.”

When the new fiscal year started July 1, Career Connections received a new year of money, Stewart said. Those funds have already run out. It could be up to a year before the program receives any additional funding. However, she encourages people to start the process, begin looking at the schools they are interested in attending and get on the waitlist.

However, these rules do not apply to former Arvin Meritor employees who lost their jobs to foreign trade. They qualify for trade benefits because their jobs went overseas, Stewart said, meaning money is still available for them to go back to school.

Ronnie Shelton of Dupont, Ind., was one who took advantage of the opportunity. He worked at Arvin Meritor for 24 years in maintenance, but lacked heating and air training. He said going back to school was a “once in a lifetime opportunity,” and he is currently attending Sullivan College of Technology and Design full-time and will graduate in March from the 18-week program. It also includes an 11-week class on resumes, job interviews, etc. After graduation, he can take classes in the future for free, he said. Shelton said he drives 68 miles to attend school four days a week, with Friday as an optional class. Despite the long drive, he said he enjoys school and will kind of miss it when it’s over.

Shelton said the big thing he is looking for in a new job is benefits, but a lot of starting, low-paying jobs do not offer them. “I think there is good work out there depending on what people want to do,” he said. “They’re not as high-paying or as many hours as we were used to. Arvin Meritor was a good place to work for.”

Shelton lives with his fiancé, who is disabled, and times have been “very rough” for their family. “Sometimes you don’t get all your paperwork in on time … some bills you let go and catch up next time,” he said.

Stewart said she does not know specific numbers, but she inherited a caseload of between 30-40 former Arvin Meritor employees who have enrolled at a school and a few have already finished.

“The problem is those Arvin Meritor jobs or those manufacturing jobs that we had years ago, (where) you could get a manufacturing job and live a nice, decent middle class life and make $20 an hour, those are gone; they’re not coming back,” Stewart said. “Right now the jobs we listed in here, the majority are $7, $9, $10 an hour and may or may not have benefits … I tell people in the job search class, if you can get $10 an hour and benefits, you’re doing good right now.”

Perkins said about 103 workers were separated when Arvin Meritor closed. “I wouldn’t say that any more than 20 have actually gone to work; all of them are pretty much unemployed,” she said. “Several of them are in school with the trade program, but a lot of them are older and think that they can’t. I’ve had two in today that have been off since ’09 and they are fixing to come to the end of their unemployment and they aren’t interested in going back to school because they don’t think they can learn new skills.”

Stewart emphasized the importance of education in today’s working environment. For example, experienced welders looking for a job now need to have a certificate; truck drivers looking for work need to have a license and certificate.

Stewart said she advises people interested in returning to school to file for financial aid online, and they could receive a $5,500 Pell grant — money they do not have to pay back.

Paul Hernden of Carroll County was one of the lucky recipients of a Pell grant, enabling him to attend Ivy Tech and pursue an associate’s degree in welding. Hernden worked for Becon Construction out of Texas and was hired as a worker on a project for LG&E in Trimble County. He has been laid off since December 2009 and decided to return to school because it provided an opportunity for a career.

“I’m living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “I have custody of both my children, and it’s been really rough.”

Hernden said he has worked his entire working life in manufacturing and construction, but has not found any suitable jobs. “There’s just not a whole lot of that going on,” he said. “It’s hard to take a job making $7-$8 an hour when that’s less than unemployment.”

Recently unemployed Carrollton resident Stephanie Garvey has only been looking for work for about two months, but is already having difficulty finding a job meeting her previous pay scale. She worked as an administrative assistant for 14 years with accounting firm Bramel & Ackley in Fort Wright and has been looking for work mostly in Louisville. “It’s tough out there with the salary I was making,” she said. “Most of the jobs open are for $12, $13 an hour, and I was making $19.”

As a result, Garvey has embarked on a complete career change: she began attending Jefferson Community and Technical College Carrollton in August to pursue a nursing degree. “I have a daughter who is a nurse, and she said there are plenty of opportunities in nursing,” she said.

Stewart said she tells job seekers to consider taking some kind of training, to figure out what field they want to get into and to research local job listings. Because almost everything has moved online, she encouraged those uncomfortable using a computer or without Internet access at home to visit the unemployment office to receive assistance.

Employers receive more than enough applications for each available position, so anything job seekers can do to make their resume stand apart is a positive, Stewart said. She also goes over tips, such as writing a thank you letter following an interview.

“It’s a lot of people, old and young, who have always had job after job after job and all of a sudden say ‘Oh my God! I have to look for a job, I don’t know how to look for a job!’ and it’s all different,” she said.

Stewart said her job at the unemployment office can get difficult because “there is only so much you can do to help.” She believes the office is not as crowded now because a lot of people who are no longer receiving unemployment checks have dropped off, and she does not know where they have gone. Usually when they are right about to fall off of unemployment, they get really motivated and think again about taking “survival jobs, one of those $7 an hour jobs that they don’t want,” Stewart said. “I’d say the really bad stories, we don’t hear.”