Alan Hill taught, coached and cheered more than 3,000 laid-off job seekers during the last year at the Bloomington Workforce Center. Next week, he will be unemployed himself.
The 2009 federal stimulus money that paid Hill and 84 other job counselors to teach at the state's 46 workforce centers ends Friday. Without funding, those workers must move on.
"The economic downturn is over, didn't you hear," Hill joked with a sad grin. The terminations come as the economy continues to sputter and unemployment remains stubbornly high.
Minnesota's workforce centers are the largest outlets in the state that help displaced workers. Labor experts say the departure of scores of counselors and trainers to the unemployed comes at a bad time. After all, roughly 200,000 Minnesotans are still looking for work.
"I have some concerns because our unemployment rate is still increasing," said Kyle Uphoff, Minnesota's assistant director of Labor Market Information. "It just went up to 7 percent [in August from 6.9 percent in July].''
Many of the 85 stimulus counselors are laid-off human resource professionals, corporate trainers and information technology specialists who found respite from unemployment by becoming coaches to the jobless. They taught anxious job seekers how to interview, write résumés, find and apply for jobs online and retrain for new trades.
Now many like Hill are planning their next steps after providing a big service. Hill "did a great job," but even he is out of a job because of the funding cut, said Kirsten Morell, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
The state will retain 80 trainers and counselors at the centers who will continue helping the unemployed and underemployed find work. About two-thirds of the temporary "stim hires" already have found work at nonprofits or different divisions within the state. But the others, including Hill, haven't found a job yet.
Hill has already sought out a job coach and belongs to a job networking group at his church.
"I am looking for a survival job that will pay the bills," he said. "But at the same time, I am also applying for jobs in I.T." and small business training. "You have to know what your passion is," he explained.
Hill admits feeling a bit pessimistic about his immediate outlook. "But I have interviews with the [Bureau of Criminal Apprehension] and DEED and I probably have 20 applications into the state, Wells Fargo, UnitedHealth Group, Robert Half International and others."
In all, six counselors from the Workforce Center in Bloomington have left or will leave. Nine will depart from centers in St. Paul and Woodbury. Six in Minneapolis will stay, thanks to new temporary grants. But they will be reassigned to duties tied to the new grants and will only be available to assist the public 20 percent of the time, managers said.
The instructors taught job search information classes and special job-search techniques. They also did videos and training on computer skills.
"We are trying to see how to keep all these services, but have not quite figured that out yet," said Larry Curry, the computer resource room supervisor at the Bloomington center.
Pat Thiewes, a workforce redevelopment rep in Bloomington, will be redeployed in the state's unemployment insurance department. "Not everybody is as fortunate," she said. "When I took the [counselor] position, ... everybody was aware it was going to be a temporary one-year to a year-and-a-half position. But of course, we were all hopeful that we'd be able to stay and continue our jobs.''
Classes 'very full'
Thiewes teaches weekly classes in computer skills, online résumé writing and how to use the state's Minnesotaworks.net job listing site. The classes "sometimes get very full, especially our basic computer classes. There's a very big need for that," Thiewes said.
Linda Hilchey, who was laid off last year from her mortgage job at Wells Fargo and again this summer from a paraprofessional teaching job, stopped by the Bloomington center Wednesday to get help with her résumé. She was instructed by Hill and Thiewes to immediately register for next week's Creative Job Search class. It's the last session that will be offered as a two-day, 16-hour class, they said.
Hilchey was grateful for the advice and quickly joined 12 others filling applications at computers across the room.
With the state's unemployment rate at 7 percent, demand for the jobs services remains high. One recent day, 300 job-seekers swarmed the Lake Street Minneapolis Workforce Center and waited in line for computers and instructors.
Going forward, that bustling center will reduce its classes -- from eight 32-hour classes each month to five. The center will offer truncated training in online job searches, networking, interviewing and résumé writing, financial literacy, and skills assessment testing, said Kathy Carney, the workforce development operations manager for North and South Minneapolis.
Jim Schultz, job service manager for two workforce centers in St. Paul and one in Woodbury, said the end of stimulus funds hurts. He's losing nine temporary trainers and human resource experts.
"It just helped immensely to have the extra staff to help the higher volumes of people coming to our office," Schultz said, adding that the two St. Paul centers alone each serve up to 4,000 clients a month. "Our staff was very stressed-out when the unemployment rate was at its peak, in dealing with high numbers of customers."
Going forward? "I know they have done it in the past,'' Schultz said of his staff. "And I am confident that they can handle it."
Dee DePass • 612-673-7725