Tools for a Trade
July 3, 2008 · Updated 1:29 PM
"Charlie said he's looking for any kind of work to keep me going.Leo has worked as a welder for years but needs to change trades because the heavy lifting required is hard on his back. He's looking for a part-time job so that he can go to school and learn a new skill.Heather says she's done just about everything, from working as a cashier to truck driving. She also wants to find a good part-time job so that she can go to school. She wants to work with children in Head Start.Michael is a single parent with four kids. He says he's an experienced chef and a culinary school graduate, but he can't find any cooking jobs on Whidbey.A dozen young people shared the stories of their struggles - and successes - in looking for work on Whidbey Island at a Job Club Friday morning at the Whidbey Career Center. Afterward, the group adjourned to the center's state-of-the-art computer lab to search for jobs on the Internet and write resumes.The two-year-old center is an undiscovered resource for many job seekers, unhappy employees and businesses looking for employees on the island. For others, the center's resources have helped them make better lives and better businesses.Joe Huden, the employment and training coordinator at the center, is run through a unique combination of federal funding and partnering with other agencies. The program was created by the 1998 federal Workforce Investment Act. The federal grant money is funneled through the volunteer Northwest Workforce Development Council, which oversees a four-county region.The Workforce Development partners, which share resources in running the centers throughout the region, include the Bellingham Technical College, Employment Security Department, the Department of Social and Health Services, Skagit Valley College and the Cascades Job Corps, plus a half dozen other voluntary partners.The idea behind the center, Huden said, is to put resources together and build a one-stop center for job seekers.The resources, all free to the public, are impressive and there's always a helpful person on-hand. Huden explained that the computers in the lab are set up with user-friendly Internet connections to a variety of job sites with vast lists of open jobs from across the nation. A job-seeker can search by location or job type and can usually apply online. Also, he or she can build a resume with an easy-to-use resume template program, post a resume online, or fill out one of the many skills surveys to help identify skills and potential careers. A lot of people come looking for work and don't realize they have skills that are marketable, he said. It basically matches skills against occupation. Many times it's what they're already involved in, other times they are surprised.The Career Center also offers a variety of resumes for job-seekers, covering such topics as building effective resumes, interviewing techniques, researching the job market and learning computer basics. There's the weekly job club that provides a place for people to network and share hints about what's out there.Employment agencies, like Express Personnel, regularly visit the centers and talk to candidates in the interview rooms. Huden said they sometimes hire people on the spot.There's special services for people who qualify under government standards. For low-income people with little job experience, Huben says the center has a program in which a person is placed in a job - usually at a government office or a non-profit agency - for up to nine months to gain some job experience and get a recommendation. The center pays a minimum-wage salary. There's also a computer workshop for low-income people and a training program for dislocated workers.Chris Vannice, an employment counselor at the center, said that many of the people receiving government aid through WorkFirst or other programs are required to go the center's job club or other workshops regularly to prove they are looking for work.On the other side, employers are also served by the center. They can put open jobs online or search the resumes posted online to find potential workers. Currently there are 3,417 resumes online for Island County. Huden said that Office Max worked with the Career Center exclusively to fill jobs when it opened last year. There's also workforce information by location that can help business people understand the job market - including the prevailing wages - and decide if they want to locate in a certain area.So is the Whidbey Career Center successful?Brian Humphrey, the county case management coordinator, says that 85 percent of the people who come to the center and get staff assistance or specific training enter and remain in a job that increases their yearly income by at least $4,000. The statistic doesn't include the people only use the computer lab.About 170 come to the center each month. Humphrey says they are a mixed bag of the unemployed as well as employed people looking for better jobs. It can be tough place to find a good job, but a pretty good place to run a business. Humphrey said Island County has a limited job market for those looking. The majority of business employ five people or less. There's low unemployment and a good supply of skilled workers brought here by the Navy base.But for the most part, he said the picture is pretty optimistic.At the job club, Alanzo told the group that he was hired the day before as a part-time nursing assistant.Latrina, a mother of two, was recently hired at the commissary at the Navy Seaplane base.Katrina got a job as an administrative assistant at a fish importer / exporter in Kirkland.The job market is hidden in Oak Harbor, she told the group. You need to be persistent, but be a professional.----------------Career classesThe Whidbey Career Center is located in Oak Harbor on Highway 20 between Blockbuster Video and Kmart. Here's a look at the workshops offered in February. Job skills identification, Feb. 7 and 28, 9 a.m. to noon.Researching your job market, Feb 8, 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.Effective resumes, Feb. 14 at 9 a.m. to noon.Learn basic computers, Feb. 22, 9 a.m. to noon.Interviewing techniques, Feb. 24, 9 a.m. to noon.The job club is every Friday from 10 a.m. to noon.Seating is limited. Call 675-5966 for reservations and information. The center is open for all job seekers and employers Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. "