Last Friday, workers from across the country came to the White House to share their stories about how they overcame long-term unemployment during a panel discussion with Secretary Tom Perez. Many more workers were represented by leaders of the public workforce system who were in the audience, and whose programs have connected thousands with new jobs.
On-the-job training: Gary Locke & Ben Bassi
Gary Locke from Manchester, N.H., was laid off from a video production position in 2012, and while he sent out more than 180 résumés, he could not land a job in his field. Gary registered for the state’s on-the-job training program (often referred to as “OJT”), which was funded by one of our National Emergency Grants and was available to Gary as someone claiming extended Unemployment Insurance benefits.
Meanwhile, Ben Bassi, the CEO of a web development and marketing company in Manchester called CommonPlaces Inc., was in search of talent to help grow his business. Ben registered for the on-the-job training program so he could identify qualified job candidates and receive financial assistance from the state for hiring and training them.
Ben found Gary’s resume through the program’s data bank of job seekers and noticed that Gary was strong on “soft skills” that are useful in any job, such as communication, so he brought him in for an interview. In March 2013, Ben hired Gary through the training program as a digital marketing analyst. Given the opportunity, Gary excelled: over the next six months, he learned the latest IT software and earned new certifications. In the fall he was fully converted to the CommonPlaces payroll as a regular employee.
Support from American Job Centers: Emmy Yi
After losing her job as an office assistant, Emmy Yi earned an associate degree in nursing and a state license through the City of Los Angeles’ HealthWorks on-the-job training program, which is funded by one of our H-1B training grants. She was hired in December through the program as an RN at a Los Angeles acute care hospital and is now earning more than two-and-a-half times what she made as an office assistant. She credits her success to the one-on-one coaching and support she received at one of our American Job Centers as part of the program.
A changing industry: Chris Sexton
I was especially moved by the story of Chris Sexton, who worked a full shift on Thursday and then drove from Eastern Kentucky all night with his wife to make it to the White House. In 2012, Chris was laid off from his job as a coal miner − a vocation shared by his older brother and father. Chris recognized the changing nature of the industry, and enrolled in Hiring Our Miners Everyday (“HOME”), an initiative of the Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program that is also funded by one of our National Emergency Grants. Chris enjoys helping others and has begun training to become a paramedic. He is currently working as an ambulance driver while he completes the program.
Moving forward: “Ready-to-Work Partnerships”
Gary, Emmy and Chris are just three of the thousands long-term unemployed people who have been helped by the grants and assistance provided through my office – the Labor Department’s Employment and Training Administration – and the public workforce system.
But we can and must do more, as President Obama said in his State of the Union address. This includes a new grant competition announced by the president on Friday that we will manage for “Ready-to-Work Partnerships.” These grants will support and expand innovative public-private partnerships that are helping long-term unemployed individuals get back to work.
Another announcement was the 300 companies, including 80 of the nation’s largest businesses, have agreed to follow best practices in recruiting and hiring the long term unemployed. (Read the best practices document and company signatories here.) The president signed a memo during the event to ensure the federal government follows the same best practices.
Hardworking, responsible Americans like Gary, Emmy and Chris are counting on us. And we need them in the workforce in order to grow the economy. Secretary Perez and I echo the president when he said, “They need our help, but more important, this country needs them in the game.”
Eric Seleznow is the acting assistant secretary of labor for employment and training.
Editor’s note: Earlier in January, Secretary Perez met with a group of long-term unemployed individuals who shared their own experiences, challenges and recommendations on the issue. Read the blog post and watch the video here.