PATERSON, NJ – With New Jersey businesses starting to build back jobs lost during the pandemic, the Passaic County One-Stop Career Center is doing its best to help people find work or the training they’ll need to land a job.
Statewide, employment prospects are becoming less bleak, as the number of jobs increased by 130,900 in June, a 26% gain of positions lost in March and April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Pandemic or no pandemic, the Passaic County One-Stop Career Center has been doing its best to continue serving the community – despite being closed to the public.
“Everything is scaled down a lot,” said Lauren Murphy, the Center’s director. “But we’re giving every customer everything we can.”
Each morning, she encourages her staff to be creative and brainstorm ideas – anything that helps them further their reach to those who need their services. As part of its mission, the center offers free services to help those who are unemployed, unskilled or displaced develop the skills needed to succeed in the workplace.
Over the past few months, staffers have retooled how they perform their jobs, working remotely to connect people with resources, programs and other unemployment-related information, according to Murphy. They have also updated their website to include links to training courses available online and a link to a welcome session for first-time clients, she said.
Besides making sure clients are keeping up with any remote training programs they are enrolled in and following up on job leads, the Center is encouraging people to visit the state’s jobs portal – jobs.covid19.nj.gov – to find immediate openings.
The closure “definitely affects our customers,” particularly ones enrolled in training programs offered through schools that have suspended in-person courses, Murphy said.
While some offerings are available online, Murphy pointed out that some of their clients may not have access to technology, so they are trying to reach those people by phone to check in.
This happened so suddenly, so there was no way to predict it. We go day by day,” said Murphy, adding that her office keeps in touch with other One Stop locations in the state to share ideas on what works and what doesn’t.
One Stop also kicked off its paid summer youth program, an annual 8-week offering for out of school youth who want to gain valuable work experience while earning some money.
Murphy said, “We normally have about 250 kids. This year, we have 50 kids. They are placed in places like the DPW, the recreation centers in Paterson and Clifton and at a few non-profits doing clerical work.”
Leading up to the program’s start, One Stop conducted socially distanced interviews with applicants outside of its Memorial Drive office, Murphy said, adding, “We did what we could do this year.”
Record Job Loss Levels
Even though New Jersey’s unemployment rate is still high, employers have begun recalling workers who lost their jobs or hours due to the coronavirus.
Statewide, New Jersey’s unemployment rate was 16.6% in June, five percentage points above the national rate, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Paterson has seen some of its highest unemployment figures in decades over the past few months. In May, 25.20% of city residents were out of work, a slight decline from 26% the previous month.
In downtown Paterson, many businesses “have brought back employees that were willing to come back to work,” said Orlando Cruz, district manager of the Downtown Paterson Special Improvement District.
Some workers plan on remaining on unemployment through July 25, when the extra $600 weekly benefit ends, Cruz said.
For residents who have received their benefits, along with the $600 Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation payment, Murphy said, “They’re doing OK.”
“They’re doing OK. But there are people who haven’t gotten anything and we hear from them day after day. We don’t have access to the system. We do have to pacify them. We tell them to keep trying the phone number and go on the website,” Murphy said.
“The first few weeks were horrifying, but it’s getting easier. More people are getting benefits and less people are applying,” she said.
Since the onset of the pandemic, 1.24 million people in New Jersey – about 28% of the current labor force - have filed jobless claims with the state. The DOL said it has paid more than 96% of eligible claims during the COVID-19 crisis.
State Readies ‘Full Suite’ Of Remote Offerings
According to a July 10 press release from the NJDOL, in-person services are suspended at all New Jersey One-Stop locations “due to overriding concerns for the health and safety of customers and staff.”
In light of the ongoing closure, the DOL said it plans to roll out “a full suite of online and telephonic jobseeker services” at locations starting Aug. 10.
“It is important that our One Stop Career Centers resume their role as a trusted community resource offering much-needed workforce services,” said Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo. “But, we must restart thoughtfully and carefully, so as to maximize our impact to those wishing to start or change careers while the health and safety of our customers and staff remains paramount.”
According to the NJDOL, remote services include career planning, assessment of training needs, occupational skills training and job search support for unemployed adults and dislocated workers and career services for individuals with disabilities, including resume building, accommodating equipment and job placement and online workshops.
Murphy said the Passaic County One-Stop offers much of these services already on a virtual basis and said the roll-out is likely being done to ensure all centers across the state can provide the same remote-access services.
According to Murphy, the tentative reopening date of the Center is Aug. 10, for staffers only. Updates on when it’ll be open to the public will be posted online.
To contact the Passaic County One-Stop Career Center, call 973-340-3400.
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