Imee Clark lost her administrative job of 10 years in 2009 after Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines acquired Northwest Airlines. The veteran worker has applied for countless jobs and earned several software certifications only to be told by prospective employers that she lacks sufficient experience.
Thomas Hill, a 20-year Air Force veteran, worked in catering and took a job at the Veterans Hospital in 2009. He lost it in 2011 after his department lost some funding.
Nardal Stroud lost a job at the predecessor of Comcast cable and a part-time position at North High. She continues to volunteer about 10 hours a week as she seeks work.
These three 50-somethings embody the face of the long-term unemployed who have exhausted unemployment benefits as they sought work over the past several years. They added training and credentials. They have cut into savings and struggled financially. They volunteer because they’re good citizens and it’s an antidote to despair.
Minneapolis last week became the sixth U.S. city where the WorkPlace, a workforce council, and local partners launched the organization’s “Platform to Employment” program aimed at giving veterans and older workers extra help to find a permanent job.
“I have ups and downs,” said Clark, a mother of two whose husband lost his job and had to move to another state for full-time work. “I decided to go into IT and got my ‘mini-master’s’ from the University of St. Thomas in IT and business analysis. And I’m Microsoft-certified [on various software]. I’ve applied for jobs and been told there were 50 other applications. I have applied [online] for up to 10 jobs a day. I had the [new] certifications but no experience. That was the stopping point.”
Minnesota employers added 12,200 positions in August, finally recapturing all the jobs lost during the 2008-09 Great Recession. The state’s official unemployment rate dropped last month to 5.1 percent, below the national average of 7.3 percent. Yet thousands of Minnesotans still seek work.
It can be particularly difficult for older workers such as Clark, Hill and Stroud, long-term unemployed who have insufficient retirement savings to call it a career and are too young for Social Security.
Employers have added sales much faster than jobs during the recovery, said Joe Carbone, CEO of the WorkPlace, a Connecticut-based workforce council. He attributes it to technology, a leaner, more productive workforce and part-time and temporary workers through the fast-growing likes of Kelly Services, which is now America’s second-largest employer behind Wal-Mart.
“The recession seized opportunity from a great many American workers,” said Carbone. “By the end of 2012, more than 6 million people had exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits. Six years ago, this population didn’t exist. Long-term unemployment becomes a barrier. The 50-plus class was more protected during the 1981-82 recession. Experience meant something. There’s been a shift in values.”
‘Get you ready to compete’
Clark, Hill and Stroud and 22 other long-term unemployed Minneapolis residents are now in a five-week training program that includes skill assessment, career coaching, emotional support and counseling. The employer hook is that the program subsidizes wages during an eight-week, “risk-free” internship that has proved successful elsewhere. The goal is to get participants permanent jobs that pay from $25,000 to $75,000 a year.
The national initiative is funded with more than $1 million from private and public sources, including the foundations of AARP, Citigroup and Wal-Mart. It focuses on those out of work for more than six months, who tend to be older and constitute a third of the unemployed.
“Our job is to get you ready to compete,” Carbone said.
Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development are partners on the Minneapolis initiative. According to program sponsors, the Platform to Employment program, started successfully in southwestern Connecticut, is being rolled out in Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Denver, Newark, Detroit and elsewhere.
So far, 80 percent of participants are placed in work-experience programs and 90 percent move on to full-time employment.
Hill and Stroud said they had grown frustrated applying for jobs online or losing out to younger hires.
“I’m hopeful about this,” said Hill, who returned to school in 2011 to be trained as a medical receptionist. “With online applications, there’s only a 4 or 5 percent chance [you’ll be interviewed]. I’d rather network with people. That’s how you get a job. I know how to get to work on time and do the job.”
Deb Bahr-Helgen, training director for the city of Minneapolis, said once the first group of 25 Platform to Employment trainees is assessed for experience and skills, ‘‘we will be able to determine which employers have positions open that are a good fit. This is a great, low-risk opportunity for employers to hire the long-term unemployed and veterans.”
Employers who have expressed interest so far include Ryan Companies, Bywater Business Solutions, Children’s Hospitals, Builders Association of the Twin Cities, Reve Consulting, Electramatic Inc. and Target. If the initial group has success, the WorkPlace and local partners will recruit another group of long-sidelined job candidates.