Washington employment is gradually improving, but the reality is that statewide unemployment is still above 8 percent. It's closer to 10 percent in Chelan and Douglas counties and 12 percent in Okanogan and Grant counties.
Few people have been left untouched by the economic slowdown of the past few years. If you're not unemployed yourself, you likely know someone who is. Some have been unemployed so long they've given up hope of finding a job. Still, some have found unemployment to be harsh but needed encouragement -- an opportunity -- to move their lives in a more positive direction.
For those still looking, there are organizations that can help.
SkillSource, a non-profit organization, works closely with the state Employment Security Department and its job placement service, WorkSource, to help train people and find them jobs. In addition to classroom computer training, SkillSource links with local businesses to offer on-the-job training. The training offers real experience that sometimes turns into full-time jobs, said Judy Leu, SkillSource training consultant.
"If we're helping them, we want them to find employment," she said. Leu said SkillSource has had budget cuts and has had to lay off some of its own staff, but is still helping more people each year. "There are jobs out there, but you have to do everything you possibly can to get one," she said.
Kristi Hills is the grant facilitator for Wenatchee Valley College's Worker Retraining Program. She helps workers make employment changes. Degree and certificate programs range from accounting and computer technology to criminal justice, nursing, medical lab work, refrigeration and welding. The programs have helped more than 116,000 unemployed workers in the state train for new jobs since created by the Workforce Employment and Training Act in 1993.
Students can collect unemployment benefits and attend college in lieu of job search when enrolled in programs that prepare them for jobs where demand is high, like nursing and environmental system technology. Grants, loans and scholarships are also available for retraining program students, Hills said.
"But it's really important to look into retraining early. There may not be help if you wait," she said. Many students piece together unemployment, scholarships and part-time jobs to get through prerequisite and degree program that can take one to four years.
The programs are offered on both WVC's Wenatchee and Omak campuses. Hills said there are about 80 students taking classes in Wenatchee and 15 in Omak. About 215 full-time students have gone through the program this school year, more than ever before. Hills said students are also staying in the program longer, an indication that the job market is still slow. Student ages range from 16 to well past 60. No one is ever to old to go back to college, she said.
"It's not easy, but for those who want to make a positive step in their lives, it can definitely happen," she said.
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