February 28, 2024

Georgia Jobs Program Draws Federal Attention

Whether the program can be replicated on a scale big enough to make a dent in the unemployment rate, though, is far from clear.

Since the recession began, the Georgia program has been held up as a national example, and a close look shows that it has pleased employers and produced steady paychecks for workers. But economists say there is little evidence that participants find work faster. And a lack of promotion, limited oversight and budget constraints have limited the program, Georgia Works, to a tiny portion of the state’s nearly half a million unemployed workers. Only about 120 people have been hired because of it this year.

That such a blip of success has been hailed as a central plank of the president’s jobs plan, and one of the few with consistent bipartisan support, shows just how few viable solutions have emerged for perhaps the nation’s most intractable problem — how to get 14 million unemployed people working again.

Already replicated by several other states, the Georgia initiative does not create jobs but allows workers to try out an existing position, unpaid, while continuing to receive unemployment benefits. At the end of eight weeks, the employer may take the worker on permanently. The program is voluntary, and participants may not work more than 24 hours a week.

Since the program began in 2003, only 18 percent of those who completed the training have been hired, according to data released this week by the state labor department. More recently, job placement has declined to about 10 percent. New Hampshire, North Carolina and Missouri report far better results from their programs, though they are still quite small. The Obama administration estimates that if every state opted in, the program would cost $1 billion to $1.5 billion.

Supporters of the effort say that hirings are not the only measure of success. The program keeps the unemployed tethered to a workplace environment. It can provide training — in fact, under federal labor laws that forbid unpaid labor, it is required to, although the state labor department’s own literature refers to it as a “free trial” for employers.

Still, the program has given Lis Cap, 26, who lost her job as a graphic designer in August, the chance to acquire a valuable skill: writing code for smartphone apps. On a recent morning, she sat at a laptop in the dining room that serves as headquarters for a small technology company called AppedOn. From an iPad screen, an AppedOn programmer based in Asheville, N.C., coached her.

“It’s a great opportunity for me to learn all I can about this area that I was interested in but had no solid experience in,” said Ms. Cap, who taught herself to build Web sites but needed help when it came to apps. “Without this, this would not be a job that I could apply for.”

It also might not be a job that AppedOn could fill, said Sosh Howell, the chief executive. App writers are in short supply, even at salaries of $40,000 to $50,000 a year. “It’s so hard to find people,” he said, “that our options come down to training someone, which is something we can’t afford as a small business, or outsourcing to another country, which is not our preferred method.”

At the end of eight weeks, Mr. Howell will either hire Ms. Cap, or she will walk away with what she considers valuable training that she could not have gained any other way.

At Georgia State University, however, the story is different. Georgia State has hired 37 workers through the program, out of 54 who have begun trial periods. But the overseers of the program there acknowledged that for many, the program was more valuable as a foot in the door than as a learning experience. One auditioner was so proficient at Microsoft Access that she showed her prospective bosses how to improve their system. She was hired.

Another employee, Belinda Robinson, said she had repeatedly sent her résumé to Georgia State but heard nothing until she volunteered for Georgia Works, thinking, “I just need to meet someone who’s in a position of power so I can sell myself.”

Unions and labor advocates like the National Employment Law Project have criticized the program as free labor for employers rather than training. The White House has tried to neutralize that complaint by ensuring that under its proposal, called Bridge to Work, the worker would receive the equivalent of minimum wage. States may apply for money to bolster unemployment benefits and to provide stipends for travel and child care, which would come out of a $4 billion federal fund meant to cover that and other re-employment programs in the jobs bill.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=d267c190bab592d09e413be53f424f7a

Speak Your Mind