Positive Resource Center: Job Placement at a Time of Job Scarcity

by Michael Bernick on July 14, 2010

For the past year, each announced job opening in San Francisco and throughout the Bay Area has attracted tens of applicants, usually hundreds of applicants. The great surplus of applicants has been across occupations and across sectors: waiters, administrative assistants, lawyers, accountants, loan officers, staffing companies – you name it.

So what is the role of the job training/job placement agency in such a time when there are so few jobs? Positive Resource Center (PRC) is one of the premier community job agencies in California. It is located on Market Street near Fifth, and has been in operation for twenty three years. It focuses on individuals affected by or at risk for HIV/AIDs, and serves around 2500 individuals annually.

Recently I sat down with Brett Andrews, Executive Director of PRC, to get his thoughts on the role of job placement activities at a time of job scarcity. Among the topics regarding employment strategies: Are the job seekers coming to PRC today different than in the past? Are there placements being made; and if so, in what occupations or sectors? What advice is his employment staff giving job seekers today?

On the job seekers coming to PRC: “This year we expect over 1,000 people, from the newly unemployed to those who have been unemployed for many years to disabling HIV, to use PRC’s Employment Services Program. PRC’s program is the only vocational rehabilitation and placement assistance services in the San Francisco Bay Area specifically developed to work with people with HIV/AIDs and mental health issues. PRC sees a cross-section of the population, with clients from every income level, job background, and walk of life.

“Previously PRC saw more people who haven’t worked for many years, and because of treatment advances were healthier and contemplating returning to work. Recently there has been a shift in the population we serve. Of late, those same individuals are more reluctant to enter the job market and risk losing the steady income their disability benefits provide, potentially leading to higher levels of stress which negatively impacts their health. Additionally, in this down economy, we are seeing more dislocated workers who have been recently laid off, are victims of hour reductions, or business closures.”

On the length of time of unemployment: “Where clients had previously experienced average job searches of 2-3 months, the timeline for the average job search for PRC’s clients can be up to a staggering 24 months. Many of them have run out of unemployment or State Disability benefits, COBRA, are in foreclosure, or have been evicted from their apartments, and are desperate for new strategies for employment.”

On job placements: “Job placements are usually on a one-by-one basis, in a range of sectors, including healthcare and human services, retail sales, non-profits.

“For example, one client who worked with a PRC employment specialist was interested in working in the retail sector. Joe went with her to Bloomingdales one afternoon on an exercise to ‘imagine’ herself in her dream job. Part of the process was to see what the required skills were for a job in retail and how her existing skills could be applied. Once they had identified what it takes to work in retail, and the talents she could bring to the industry, they crafted a resume that was tailored to meet the requirements of job that was open at Macy’s, where PRC staff have a relationship. She is now employed in the Couture Department.”

“In 2009, PRC recorded 343 job placements, 211 of which were in long-term positions.”

On advice to job seekers: “Employment Services always recommends a diversified job search strategy. We individualize our job search approach with every client, and work with each person in a way that builds confidence and motivation.

“We also suggest that individuals do as much front-end research as possible. This includes online research and informational interviews. The information gathered helps our clients identify what requisite skills are needed to be successful in the job, while highlighting skills areas that may need more development.

“Lastly, it is important to identify with your work. We ask that individuals have a clear understanding of their values. The closer an individual’s values align with the activities of a job, the more likely she or he is to succeed in that job.”

Even in the current economy, there is job turnover and new jobs being created, so that job placements are possible. PRC’s approach involves technology, but is heavy on the one-to-one individual job coaching. Its strong sense of mission, ties with employers, and knowledge of the local labor market, are all elements in its effectiveness.

Michael Bernick was the director of the California Employment Development Department from 1999-2004, and is active in community job training throughout California.

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