Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Your own assistant

It didn’t go so well the first time Gerald Maytea went to a job center.

It was 1977, and he had just left the military after serving in the Vietnam War. He needed help finding employment, but it wasn’t working out. He said the center in Pennsylvania suffered from poor organization. The way it posted job opportunities – pieces of paper stuck to a cork board – made it difficult to find what he was looking for.

Worse, he said, was how the center’s staff treated him.

“It was like, ‘You’re unemployed – you’re nothing,’ ” he said.

“But it’s changed a lot since then, and it’s changed for the better. Compared with today, that was like the Stone Age.”

Today, 52-year-old Maytea can find all manner of high-tech help inside the Workforce Connection of Central New Mexico One-Stop Career Centers and the New Mexico Department of Labor Workforce Development Centers.

Workforce Connection is a federally funded program administered by the Mid-Region Council of Governments in Albuquerque. It shares some space and programs with the state’s Workforce Development Centers.

Together they offer help at five centers in Albuquerque, Rio Rancho, Los Lunas and Moriarty.

Free of charge, Maytea can send faxes, make long-distance calls, make copies, search job databases and surf the Web.

But those are just a few of the centers’ tools. Also available are staff members to consult with people looking for work and with the employers doing the hiring.

For people dealing with issues besides the lack of a job – perhaps a disability, perhaps the care of a child – there are a number of programs that hook people up with assistance, and more might be on the way.

And with an increasing focus upon training New Mexicans for jobs in up-and-coming industries, the Workforce Connection One Stop is getting more proactive about putting the state’s residents to work.

“Now we’re starting to look at tailoring the programs,” said Lawrence Rael, executive director of the Mid-Region Council of Governments. “It’s really moving in a positive direction.”

Evolution

In the past, training at the one-stop centers lacked the precision the centers are striving for today, Rael said.

When clients walked in, they generally got whatever skills they sought, sometimes without a careful analysis of whether those skills would be in demand. But with Workforce Connection’s recent, experimental grants – up to $20,000 – to economic development groups, the centers are looking to get a handle on hot and emerging industries, he said.

With the resulting increase in input from businesses and economic development groups, the center can train people for jobs that will be in demand, he said, a draw for companies wondering if they’ll be able to find staff in New Mexico with the needed skills. Health care and technology are two fields being closely looked at.

“That’s a really smart way of using the dollars,” Rael said. “You’ve got to put all your resources together to attract these companies.”

The Workforce Development Center at 501 Mountain Road N.E., already gives incoming clients a blue card that lists 42 different categories of aid – offered by the Labor Department or Workforce Connection – with a check box next to each one. They include apprenticeships, r?sum? assistance, tax credits, child care and more. Depending on a person’s income, he or she can be eligible for up to 104 weeks or $7,000 in training assistance, whichever comes first.

Getting the aid, however, is not instantaneous, said Robert Whitaker, office director for the Workforce Connection Workforce Investment Act program at the center. People looking for help undergo a review of their career goals and how to best reach them. He said the process can take two to three weeks.

Being a one-stop career center, the location is about more than just landing a job. People lacking formal education can get advice on how to acquire a GED, for example. Others juggling child care with going to work can get directed toward help. Ditto for workers with disabilities.

And in the near future, it’s possible that one-stops will become more one-stoppish as the centers look at incorporating services for the federal welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Rael said.

Additionally, this summer will see the startup of an in-school, prototype program for young people in Valencia county that matches them with members of the National Guard, Rael said.

Also running will be the second go-round of a summer work program for young people that gives them jobs in the public sector that pay more than minimum wage, he said.

In 2004, 180 graduating high school seniors entered the program and landed jobs. About 200 are expected to participate this year.

Employers aren’t left out of the loop. An on-the-job training program will pay 50 percent of wages a business pays for employees to undergo training. The center connects businesses with skilled workers and offers tax information on top of that.

“From a structural perspective, we are much further ahead than we were three years ago,” Rael said.

Starting again

It’s a Monday morning, and people old and young alike fill the sunny lobby of the job center on Mountain Road. Some wear slacks and ties, others T-shirts and jeans. Many hold paperwork in their hands and look expectantly around the mostly quiet room. A few bend over tables and counters, gripping ballpoint pens and filling in blanks with their names, phone numbers, addresses and other facts of their lives.

Maytea – wearing a tie – waits next to a gate leading back into the field of cubicles where would-be workers sit down with job consultants to discuss their futures. Because of health problems, a small tank hangs from Maytea’s shoulder, delivering bursts of oxygen through a tube in his nose every 20 seconds or so.

In a few minutes, Robert Whitaker with Workforce Connection walks up to Maytea and invites him back, offering a hearty, “How you doing, man?” as the two head back to Whitaker’s cubicle.

“Well, I completed that program,” Maytea said.

“How was it?” Whitaker asked.

“Excellent.”

Maytea came to the center in March 2005 after the private security company he worked for went out of business. With his health problems preventing him from working in the same field, he needed new skills.

“I can’t just sit around the house,” he said. “I have to have something to do.”

Through classes arranged through the job center, he picked up certificates of expertise in Internet searching, customer service, Windows XP, résumé writing and interviewing.

“The training was absolutely excellent,” he said.

He visited Whitaker to arrange classes in Microsoft Word and Excel within the next couple of weeks. He hopes the additional skills will land him a clerical job that his health problems won’t prevent him from doing. But being older and disabled, he said it’s a challenge.

“The key to it is don’t get depressed,” he said. “Don’t get disillusioned. Just keep trying.

“Something will come through.”

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