WILKES-BARRE — Jobs and potential employees — Luzerne County seems to have a pool of both — but a gap in skills is driving a wedge between the two.
But trade schools and CareerLink programs offer job seekers training options that can help close that gap.
“You may think ‘what the heck, we have a high unemployment rate, but there are jobs’,” said Christine Jensen, administrator of CareerLink offices in Wilkes-Barre and Hazleton. “There are jobs and there are people who need jobs, but they do not have the right skills.”
According to the July 2014 unemployment numbers, Luzerne County was 6.8 percent, down a tenth of a percentage point from June, but still above the statewide average of 5.7 percent ranking the county as one of the highest in the state.
Bill Burke, associate campus director with McCann School of Business and Technology, has seen people heading back to school to beef up their skills to land jobs in growing industries. Enrollment numbers have increased slightly from last year at campuses in Wilkes-Barre Township and Hazleton, he said.
“We do have the traditional student coming right out of high school along with the more non-traditional students, who want to make a change for the better,” Burke said. “That change can be due to a job loss, but more often than not they are seeking to acquire new skills and career training.”
Gerry Chickeletti, project director of the Mature Workers Program in Luzerne and Wyoming Counties, said there is a waiting list for the program which offers work skill training and assistance with job searches for those 55 and older.
Working in tandem with Penn State Wilkes-Barre Campus, Lehman, Chickeletti said the program offers classes in customer service, computers, social media and Spanish In the Workplace to help older citizens update their skills.
This year, a new program is being rolled out called Ready, Set Go. The intent is to identify an individual’s marketable and interview skills, communication style and appearance to help maximize the job interview or job fair experience.
Helping people connect with well-paying jobs, Jensen said CareerLink works equally with employers, job seekers and local educational institutions.
“We want to get people working, not in just a minimum wage job, but a sustaining wage job,” Jensen said.
CareerLink’s definition of a sustaining wage job is defined as earning at least $31,815 for a single parent with one pre-school aged child, Jensen said.
Part of CareerLink’s enrollment program offers job seekers labor market information, showing what kinds of jobs are in the region and what they pay.
“If you are going to spend all that money to go to school, you want to get an education in an area where there are jobs and job growth,” Jensen said.
Taping into areas of job growth is key to success. Heather Contardi, director of career services with Fortis Institute, Forty Fort, said she has seen a steady upward trend in the fields of HVAC, electricians, medical assistants and massage therapists.
Driving for success
Popular fields of interest, Burke has seen are in the areas of business, health care, information technology, criminal justice, security and investigation.
One area that has an abundance of employment opportunities but has a lack of qualified applicants are commercial drivers, or tractor trailer drivers. Contardi, Burke and Jensen said positions exist across the board from long-haul drivers to drivers who would be home nightly.
“CDL graduates could have a good paying job immediately,” Contardi said.
CareerLink helps identify local growing industries, but also helps connect people with educational workshops in the areas of Intro To Computers, Financial Aid 101, Career Decision Making and Interviewing Skills.
CareerLink, Jensen said, is often misunderstood as the “Unemployment Office.”
“We are not the unemployment office,” Jensen said. “They are located in Taylor. We can help you file for unemployment. But we offer so much more.”
CareerLink can offer limited funding assistance, for those who qualify to attend a trade school program, but requirements need to be met.
If it is determined the client possesses skills in an industry, the goal will be to help them acquire a position there, Jensen said. If the individual requires training to obtain a sustaining wage job, the candidate has to meet criteria to see if they qualify to receive funding assistance to attend a trade school.
“We have a limited pot of money,” Jensen said.
If a candidate did not have training that could result in a wage-sustaining job, Jensen said they would be enrolled in the CareerLink program. They would have to take the WorkKeys aptitude test, chose a job in a recognized industry showing growth and a sustainable wage projection.
“We want you to succeed,” Jensen said.