It is an exciting time to be in the arena of workforce development. Our field is expanding, more people are realizing its importance and the federal government is taking action affecting our industry and those we serve. For 2014, the White House and the Department of Labor (DOL) have announced an ambitious but much needed focus on improving our economy by helping the long-term unemployed, improving workforce training programs, and raising the minimum wage.
It was especially energizing for me to be a small part of this movement to help the long-term unemployed. At the beginning of 2014, I was asked to attend a meeting held by the DOL Secretary Thomas Perez along with Employment and Training Administration (ETA) Officials Eric Selznow, Acting Assistant Secretary and Ben Seigel, Senior Policy Advisor. The invited guests were a few dedicated job club leaders and a group of long-term job seekers. The purpose: to start a dialogue discussing the challenges and potential solutions for the long-term unemployed.
Walking through the long and tall corridors of DOL and waiting for the meeting to start were somewhat intimidating but once it began, the warmth felt by the administration was heartfelt and I was impressed with the genuine concern and sincerity from DOL Secretary Perez. Hearing the personal stories and struggles of each talented and motivated job seeker was very emotional. One man who was diagnosed and battled cancer while being long-term unemployed said that by far, being unemployed had more negative impact on his life than the cancer. While I was saddened to hear this, I was not shocked. As a career advisor I have seen the effects of unemployment. Not only does it attack your self-confidence and cause financial strain but the process of finding decent employment in this job market can really take a toll on your soul. Thanks to these folks for telling their compelling stories. I know it was hard to share with a room full of strangers but the impact was huge and led to positive action.
As a career and workforce professional, I must take a brief moment to challenge the opinions out there that the long-term unemployed are unmotivated and happy to be receiving unemployment insurance. There are many honest and hard-working job seekers and there are a variety reasons why it might take someone a long time to become re-employed. Sometimes people need to change careers, which is a much longer process than just finding a job. Sometimes the health of the person or a close family member takes necessary but critical time away from the job search. Below are a couple of posts emphasizing the point that the long term unemployed are not lazy and expecting a handout. They want to contribute to our economy; they just need to be given a chance. Eric’s Selnzow’s blog post about our January 8th meeting shared that it is often not a lack of motivation and effort creating the length of unemployment. Also, John Fugazzie wrote a moving article about the recent efforts from DOL and the White House while continuing to dispel the myths surrounding this group of job seekers.
Then, on January 31, only a few weeks after our DOL visit, President Obama stood in the East Room of the White House and announced new partnerships with companies to improve hiring practices that are singling out people in this “long term unemployed” category. For more information, here is a fact sheet on this effort. Here is a list of best practices and the names of companies already on board. If you run a company and want to sign on, click here to do so.
Building upon this momentum, in February the Department of Labor announced a Ready to Work Partnership initiative to competitively award around $150 million (in revenues from the H-B1 visa program) to high performing workforce organizations for providing a variety of training and services to get people back to work.
Activities surrounding this topic are continuing. On May 6th, many of the same group headed to Boston for a conference at MIT addressing long term unemployment and solutions. And just last week some former colleagues of mine went to the White House to speak with DOL Secretary Perez, Eric Selnzow, Ben Seigel and others to continue this conversation. Thanks to DOL and the White House for keeping this conversation going and taking action steps to help the long-term unemployed.
There are two lesser known champions who have made great efforts to help job seekers behind the scenes, Ben Seigel and John Fuggazie. Kudos to Ben Seigel for his efforts for organizing the January 8th meeting that started the ball rolling. In recent years, he has been dedicated to bringing this issue to the forefront at the highest levels of our government. Also, many thanks to John Fugazzie, an inspirational leader for job seekers who tirelessly promoted the case for extending unemployment benefits. John created Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA, Inc. a free, volunteer-led job search support and networking group targeted to adults who are actively looking for work. He writes a regular column for AOL. Click here to see his article about the January 8th meeting with DOL Secretary Perez. Thanks to everyone who is helping in this effort. It is an important one!
White House Blog post on helping the long-term unemployed: http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/02/10/helping-long-term-unemployed-get-back-work
National Economic Council Report addressing the negative effects of long-term unemployment: