Wanted: Publicity for job training
The Dislocated Worker Program has 891 active enrollees in its job counseling program.
The total, which grows by the week, doesn’t count the hundreds who are in the midst of a four-month wait to see a counselor — each carries a client load of 100 to 200 participants.
Enrollment in the federally funded program, which serves people who have lost a job through no fault of their own, is high but pales in comparison with the 27,300 people in the metro area who were unemployed in September.
The gap is not easy to explain. Some unemployed residents may be skipping the Dislocated Worker Program in favor of staffing firms or their own networking efforts. Some may be turned off by the long wait times or strings that come attached to federal money. Some simply may not qualify for the help.
Many people just haven’t found the program, even with $2 million available to spend on retraining.
“We have to keep spreading the word,” said John Strandin, spokesman for the Workforce Investment Board, which oversees the training programs. “I recently spoke to a community group, and they didn’t know money was available to send them back to school. They thought it would be something they’d have to do on their own.”
But others, experts say, are doing nothing at all.
Waiting too long
People may not be seeking a service like the Dislocated Worker Program because it’s often seen as the first step to a search for not only a new job, but possibly a new career — and both are inherently discouraging tasks, said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas.
“Finding a job means going out and getting rejected over and over again, until the last one,” he said. “You’ve already been rejected by your former employer, so you’re already gun-shy. A common behavior in that circumstance is avoidance.”
Challenger said getting training, even if it’s free, is an intimidating step for many people, especially those who have been in one field for decades.
“Going back to school is daunting if you are midcareer or later. There’s a legitimate concern that training can’t substitute for years of work experience in another area, and that training only gets you back to entry level in a new place.”
Gary Kurpeski isn’t sold on the idea of retraining. The 43-year-old Poplar Grove resident lost his job at Greenlee Textron in mid-January. With an associate degree in business management, management experience and computer proficiency, he’s not sure the Dislocated Worker Program would be much help.
“It’s training I already have,” he said. “I’m not sure what I could learn. They may want me to brush up on being a machinist again, and that’s fine, but I don’t know what the value of that is.”
Still unknown to some
Kurpeski’s views on the Dislocated Worker Program are new, however, because until recently, he didn’t know it existed.
When he lost his job, he used the Illinois Department of Employee Security’s Web site to sign up for unemployment benefits. From there, he was sent to Illinois Skills Match, another Web site where job seekers can enter their skills and experience and be matched with potential jobs in the area.
Nowhere on the Web site — which is being pushed by IDES as a way to sign up for unemployment and skip long lines at the unemployment office — was Kurpeski told about the Dislocated Worker Program.
“I called IDES trying to get some information. I called seven times, and each time I sat on the phone and waited. I timed it — I sat on the phone for an hour and 15 minutes each time,” he said. “You can’t talk to these people. You can’t get information from them. It’s all been through the mail. I walked down there once to try and see someone, but the line was out to the street. I haven’t been down there now in months.”
Kurpeski has instead been working with local staffing agencies to look for work. He also figures that he’s sent out 600 to 700 applications.
Those who get in say the program is worthwhile. Russ Slagle, 53, lost his job with Camcar Aerospace in December and signed up with the Dislocated Worker Program in January. He had to wait nearly six months to meet with a counselor, but now he is working on finding training opportunities.
He very nearly didn’t know about it. “When I was let go, it wasn’t mentioned at all,” the Loves Park resident said.
“I had another friend who was laid off, and he told me about it. I think that’s a huge barrier. Most of the people I know who have been laid off, they weren’t aware of it. They didn’t even know it existed. Everyone knows about the unemployment office, but not this.”
Strandin said the goal is to make sure everyone who comes to The Workforce Connection’s office to sign up for unemployment benefits is told about the job counseling services offered, including the Dislocated Worker Program. Staff members are on site for mass layoffs to inform workers about the program, but not every company uses that service.
Online enrollment for unemployment benefits doesn’t point job searchers directly to The Workforce Connection’s Web site, but the information is available online. Still, Strandin said, the staff still needs to work just to get word out about their services.
Long wait ‘frustrating’
Stan Lipowski is eager to take part in the Dislocated Worker Program, but his application is still waiting for approval three months after he went to an orientation session. In June, the 59-year-old Loves Park resident was laid off from Northgate Technologies in Elgin, where he was in quality assurance and engineering. He’d been there since 2003.
“It is frustrating. I’m trying to stay full of energy,” he said. “It’s frustrating that the Dislocated Worker Program is taking so long. I would like to see a counselor and have the opportunity to take a course. I’m sure many people are being scared off by the wait.”
The Workforce Connection’s staff is working to shorten the waiting period by hiring more counselors and doing some improvements to paperwork processing.
“It could be that people will look at that wait and say ‘I can’t get in, so I’m not going to bother,’” Strandin said. “What we tell people is, go ahead and sign up as quickly as they can. It’s going to be a wait, but if they move soon, they can get into training before their unemployment runs out.”
Sean F. Driscoll can be reached at (815) 987-1346 firstname.lastname@example.org.
What dislocated workers need to know
Career counseling, certificate and degree programs, computer classes, GED preparation and basic-skills classes, job search workshops, on-the-job training, resume services, seminars, and speakers
To be eligible for the Dislocated Worker Program you must:
Be laid off or terminated from your job (quitting a job does not qualify) or,
Have received written notice of an impending layoff or termination.
Be authorized to work in the United States; proof of citizenship, birth certificate, passport, and/or alien registration card will be required.
Be registered with Selective Service; required for men born Jan. 1, 1960, or later, and male registered aliens who entered the U.S. before their 26th birthdays
You may be eligible if you have been self-employed but are now unemployed and have documented proof of the existence of the business and its loss.
Other criteria are used in conjunction with the above to determine eligibility. Occupational and industrial statistics play a key role in the eligibility determination process.