Get a job! What job?
A recent verbal exchange at a Grand Junction intersection prompted League of Women Voters of Mesa County to sponsor an educational forum to learn more about the state of jobs in Mesa County.
League program chairman David Pilkenton recalled a passing motorist who yelled, “Get a job!,” to a bystander who responded, “What job?” — followed by, “You could get a job if you wanted one.”
In an effort to learn what’s true, the League gathered eight panelists who are all in the business of helping people find work. They represented various organizations that provide services, training and placement opportunities for qualified youth and adults seeking employment in Mesa County. Held Tuesday at School District 51’s Career Center Coyote Cafe, 2935 North Ave., the forum was one of several educational programs the League sponsors each year.
GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS
While some jobs, like in the hospitality field, are increasing, there are still not as many jobs as there are people seeking employment.
Also, wages in Grand Junction are 81 percent of the national average, said Suzie Miller, business services manager with the Mesa County Workforce Center. There were, however, more jobs listed in August with the Workforce Center than in 2008. The problem is most of those jobs are low wage and part-time.
“There are not as many higher-paid jobs as prior to the recession,” Miller said.
“Imagine if you’re a single parent and you have to hold down three part-time jobs to raise a family. And there are other barriers, such as childcare scheduling.”
Andy Fox is branch manager with Labor Ready, a staffing company that places job seekers with employers looking for help. Workers are hired first as “temps” — “a working interview we like to call it,” Fox said.
The company has seen an increase in part-time and seasonal work available compared to the last four years.
“There’s not a lot of permanent work,” Fox said. “Minimum wage ($7.78 per hour) to $11 an hour is the majority of what we see.”
Forty to 50 people looking for work register at Labor Ready every day. Typically, there are 30 jobs available, Fox said.
The issue of Mesa County’s low wages was often mentioned as a barrier to getting ahead. Many who work for low wages qualify for public assistance.
League member Duke Cox said there’s a movement in the country to legislate a living wage. He and panelist Julie Mamo, executive director of Grand Valley Peace and Justice, said that taxpayers are essentially subsidizing employers whose employees qualify for public assistance.
Another person in the audience, Rich Lopez, director of the Western Colorado Latino Chamber of Commerce, said when he operated a business on the Eastern Slope he paid more than his competition, thus, attracted the best employees.
In fact, “a lot of our candidates relocate to other states where they can earn significant more money for the same work,” said panelist Kristi Courtner, business outreach specialist with the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, an agency that helps people with disabilities get training to develop careers.
“We put over 2,200 people to work statewide last year,” Courtner said.
Students and alumni of Colorado Mesa University who are looking for jobs can tap into CMU’s career services office. There, people can get help with creating resumes, writing cover letters, and learn interviewing skills, coordinator Dianne Kull said.
“It’s not unusual to get 200 or more resumes for every job out there,” Kull said.
She said she’s seen a growth in nontraditional students returning to college for retraining since the recession.
“We service alumni indefinitely,” she said.
The university’s’s career services department also hosts job fairs, offers workshops, and has a website, specifically for students and alumni, of job postings.
Other panelists included Tammy Grobble, job specialist with the School to Work Alliance Program; and Lori Wacker, youth program supervisor, and Nancy Wall, youth program specialist, both with the Workforce Investment Opportunity Center.
Wall and Wacker work with economically disadvantaged youth up to age 21, some of whom have special barriers to finding employment.
“We also can offer clothing and work experience,” Wall said. “We can pay up to 240 hours to put kids in a job. We’ll pay the wages while an employer tries the kids out.
“Ninety percent of the time, they’re hired. It’s a great opportunity.”
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