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WANTED: JOBS - Jobless turn to career centers for help

Billy and Barbara Mitchell packed it up late last year and left north Georgia’s carpet country for Macon.

The mills around Calhoun were downsizing, and relatives said there were jobs to be had here.

“It hasn’t worked out that way,” Billy Mitchell said earlier this year as he filled out paperwork in the crowded Georgia Department of Labor office on Mercer University Drive.

Mitchell had landed a grocery store job in Byron, but he was let go after a probationary period. Two months later, the couple have yet to find work, and they are scraping by on unemployment benefits.

“We’ve had to cut back,” Mitchell said. “Most of what we’re paying for now are utilities and groceries. That’s all we can afford right now.”

The Mitchells are not alone in their predicament. The latest numbers from state labor officials show that nearly 443,000 unemployed Georgians are looking for work.

Many of them last hunted a job when employers welcomed drop-in applicants — and e-mailed resumes and online applications were unheard of.

“For some people, finding a job is going to be the hardest job they’ve ever had,” said Mo Wilson, the Georgia Department of Labor’s district director for Middle Georgia. “If you’ve not interviewed in 20 years, if you’ve not filled out an application, everything changes.”

For job seekers, a department Career Center is a good place to start. The centers offer free services that include career counseling, job referrals, resume-writing workshops and free use of computers, phones and fax machines.

And, of course, it’s still the place people sign up for unemployment benefits.

“We will do anything we can for folks,” Wilson said, “People still call us and say, ‘Is this the unemployment office?’ We’ve refocused ourselves as ‘career centers.’ ”

From July 2007 through June 2008, the state Department of Labor helped put 295,231 Georgians back to work within 90 days of the applicants’ registering for job services — a success rate of 66 percent, spokesman Sam Hall said.

Of those gaining employment, about 80 percent remained employed six months later.

New job-placement numbers covering the latter part of 2008 should be available within the next few weeks, Hall said.

Wilson recommends that workers register for job search services as soon as they learn they’re being laid off. Staff members will assess workers’ skills and try to match them to posted jobs.

“You don’t want to keep going to jobs you’re not going to get an interview for,” Wilson said.

“The more jobs you don’t get, the more frustrated you get.”

Of course, not all companies use the Labor Department to screen applicants.

“We also recommend that people look for jobs on their own,” Wilson said.

Some unemployed workers could qualify for Georgia Works, an initiative that provides workplace training and an allowance of $240 to cover transportation, food and other expenses.

Applicants work 24 hours a week for eight weeks. They’re not paid for the work, but they continue to draw unemployment benefits.

At the end of the eight-week period, employers can — but are not required to — hire the applicants. If not hired, the applicants keep their benefits.

“A lot of people go from one job to another,” Wilson said. “Maybe that’s not the right job, not a good fit.”

The career centers provide information and training on topics ranging from job interviews to basic computer usage.

For example, if an applicant needs help preparing a resume, he or she can either attend a workshop or meet with a resource specialist.

“Some people do well in workshops. Some people do better one on one,” Wilson said. “We have workshops on how to dress, how to answer questions, on things that might come up in an interview.”

On a recent Thursday, Deanne Jeanette McCrorey pored over job listings on a Macon Career Center computer, looking for openings in sales and clerical work. An applicant can select up to three job listings each day, then meet with a services specialist who gives applicant referrals if the jobs are a match.

“Now it’s all about availability. You’ve got to be open to all hours. Employers want you to be available,” she said.

McCrorey, 36, has been unemployed all of the year, since the cleaning company she worked for relocated to Alabama. She also came to the office Thursday to see if she qualified for unemployment benefits.

She’s been braiding and styling hair from home to bring in some income.

McCrorey said she’s also considering going back to school to be a dental assistant.

For the Mitchells, the job search may lead them back to north Georgia.

Barbara Mitchell has a group interview with a tire manufacturer in Cartersville.

“I hope they’ll call me, too,” Billy Mitchell said. “We’re seriously considering moving back if that job comes through.”

To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.

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