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State Hopes To Retrain Unemployed Workers

As the ranks of the unemployed swell, many new arrivals on the unemployment line turn to re-training. Ohio has a two-tiered re-training program that depends, in part, on community colleges.

At a job fair last week at Columbus's Huntington Park hundreds of people were looking for work. Doyle Schoenberger says he's been out of a job for about 20 weeks. He's not receiving unemployment benefits, he says, which is tough.

"I didn't have a recession-proof job," Schoenberger says. "The job goes and so do you - no benefits, no unemployment, nothing."

It's easier for Jacinta Gaynor who receives unemployment compensation. She says she has a degree in philosophy, is a certified social worker and has also driven a truck for a living

"I haven't quite decided what I want to do yet," Gaynor says. "I can always fall back on social work, and I'm kicking around the idea of going back into driving and right now for the first time in my life I'm on unemployment so that's come in handy while I'm in the middle of this transition."

But what happens when unemployment benefits run out? Hundreds of thousands of Ohioans face that eventuality unless they find other jobs. Julie Smith works for the Department of Job and Family Services. Smith says the focus of her work is changing. The department still provides unemployment compensation but there's a move toward to retraining the worker.

"It used to be viewed that unemployment compensation was about the check," Smith says. "But when you fall on times such as we're in now, that unemployment check is not enough and not long enough to cover the potential weeks and months and year that folks are being unemployed. So we're starting to see this shift toward more career enhancement type possibilities and retraining possibilities and reemployment."

State-funded unemployment centers around Ohio try to steer the unemployed toward careers where there is the most demand.

"The high growth industries are certainly the medical field; some service related industry, high growth; green jobs are obviously indicated," Smith says.

Ohio has what it calls one-stop shops for the unemployed that teach resume preparation, job search and basic interviewing techniques, and software skills. But for more advanced training, the state often refers an unemployed person to a community college or other educational program or institution. Nancy Case is Columbus State Community College's Transitional Workforce director.

"This is our annex where we do our dirty lab; where we do the dry walling, some of the carpentry where there's a lot of sawdust and dust, and the students really get their hands-on experience of what they're learning in the classroom," Case says.

But the enrollment in Columbus State's Orientation to Trades and Apprenticeships program -is small and only a small minority of those are laid off workers. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services' Julie Smith:

"We see a disappointingly low number of folks who actually access the training opportunities that are available," she says. "Training and reeducation is a scary notion to have to go back and retrain."

But in the 16-county area that surrounds Wilmington the need to find new employment is acute. As many as 8,000 people have already lost their jobs at the Wilmington Air Park. Another 4,000 may eventually end up in unemployment lines.

"A couple of years ago if somebody would have said that we'd be here talking about the departure of all the jobs from the air park we'd of thought we were nuts," says Keith Hyde. "In today's job market anything is possible. So it's a good thing to have as many skills and be as flexible as you can in your career because you never know when something might change."

Keith Hyde is Director of Workforce Services Unlimited, a non profit corporation that's helping unemployed workers in the Wilmington area find new jobs. He says federal and state money has been allocated for retraining workers. And counselors help point interested people in the right direction.

"We've got a cap for tuition and support of $21,000 a person: $15,000 for tuition, books and fees and $6,000 for other kinds of things," Hyde says.

Hyde says former air park employees are enrolled in 30 to 40 different training opportunities from Columbus to Cincinnati and some have even gone out-of-state.