Three people were among those attending the orientation workshop at the Berkeley WorkSource One Stop Career Center Wednesday morning: one holds a doctorate in history, another is homeless and a third has worked as a computer assistant. This is the face of unemployment in Berkeley and it’s not going to change soon.
“I don’t see our job orders going down but more people are unemployed,” said Delfina M. Geiken, the center manager. “We (now) get not just entry level jobseekers, but more highly trained, higher skilled and higher academic background jobseekers.”
Geiken said in the last few weeks the center has seen a 25 percent increase in the numbers of unemployed.
“There is more traffic of people, more new clients, more participants in employer recruitment on site, and of course more demand for unemployment forms,” she said.
Unemployment shoots up in Berkeley
Berkeley unemployment rose to 5.1 percent in October, almost double the annual rate of 2.7 percent in 2000. During October, 3,480 people filed unemployment insurance forms, the state Employment Development Department reported a week ago.
The One Stop Career Center is one avenue the city and federal government use to help people find work.
Founded in November 1998, the center provides employment programs and services to jobseekers, including nonresidents. Some of the employment programs are designed to help seniors, veterans, disabled and parolees.
“The idea was to streamline services and to make the job opportunities open to a universal job seeker,” said Geiken.
Center officials said they have no way to track clients to see if they end up finding jobs. At present, they said, some 500 clients including 150 new ones, use the center every month.
“It is a self-service center,” Kathleen Watson, the Economic Development Department representative told participants in the orientation workshop. “Do what you can do to find a job.”
She urged them to use the center resources, the Web links, the job offers on the board, the center library and their workshops. “You pay taxes, the fax, phone and Web access are for free,” she said.
Center staff helps clients use resources
Employees will assist if clients run into difficulties using the center’s resource room, Watson said. In some cases and only after 60 days of searching for work, the center sends jobseekers for training or to upgrade their skills.
Watson, who used to work at Berkeley High School, knows what it is like to look for a job.
“I know what it’s like to feel when a shoe is about to fall every minute,” she told them. “I was laid off many times. I got permanent only last year after working 16 years for the state.”
“At least she was willing to listen,” said Marsha, a 38-year-old Berkeley resident who asked that her full name not be used. Marsha recently received a doctorate in history. “I don’t know how good they are in placing someone in my position but they are really willing to help.”
Marsha has applied for nine or ten different jobs over the last two years, but was rejected each time for being overqualified.
Job search difficult for the overqualified
“I don’t know how long it will take me to find a full time position in my field,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a Ph.D.; you still need to pay the bills.”
Debbi Cooper, a San Francisco art program developer who studied psychology and recently used the resource room also said she can’t find work in her field, “but I use (the resource room) on a regular basis and I even found a job here a year ago.” Back then Cooper took an entry level job in Hawaii but decided to return to look for something more challenging. On Friday she applied for a position as a therapist.
In Alameda and Contra Costa counties there are 16 One Stop Career Centers under one umbrella called EastBay Works Inc. Berkeley’s First Source is part of that.
Employees at the Berkeley center come from the city, the state, and the Veterans Department. The $800,000 annual budget is funded by all of these agencies.
Some employers agree to hire Berkeley First
The First Source Program is designed to link qualified Berkeley residents to local employers. The City Council passed an ordinance in 1987 that requires every new or expanding employer to consider Berkeley residents first in their hiring.
The center succeeded in signing more than 80 agreements with local businesses to give Berkeley residents a first option on jobs.
People who wish to use the services are required to take a math and reading test and to submit an application that will be screened by the center workers before being offered to employers. Last month seven people found jobs through the program.
But this program will not help people like Marsha or Cooper.
“I’m going to be honest,” said René Perez, an employment specialist for the city. “For professionals we don’t have very much to offer. Most of our jobs are entry level or middle level.” He said the center rarely see jobs that paid $5,000 a month.
Perez said the main target is the entry level jobs for high school graduates and “there is still a great demand for those.”
A student who came to the center, left after realizing it primarily offers Web site access.
“I have a computer at home,” he said. “I can do it on my own.”
“It is a self-directed center,” said Geiken. “I encourage everyone to come in but those who can network on their own don’t need us. Those who need the resources, the contacts and even those who need to be in touch with other people for peer support are coming.”
For Elaine Rich, a medical assistant, the center was exactly what she needed.
“I just want to be able to use the phone, fax and the job listing on the web,” she said. “My stuff is in storage, in the library I have to wait in line and I don’t have a phone.”
Rich comes to the center almost twice a day to look for “work that will make me able to live in the Bay Area.”
He works part time as temporary medical assistant and has been looking for full-time work since February.
Some of the center’s programs are for the homeless including a “clean the city” initiative that provides 23 homeless people a small salary for cleaning the city. At present, the program is at capacity.
“I wish I could enroll in it,” said Candy Mooney, a newcomer from Missouri, seeking both housing and a job. “I used to work as a cashier but I’m looking for anything right now. Fast food, housekeeper, marketing, carpeting.”
Mooney, who used to work for the state of California’s tax department, returned from Missouri after several years to find that things had changed. “When I lived in California before, getting a job was easy,” she said. She now lives with friends in a one bedroom apartment and is on a waiting list for a shelter.
Tim Stroshane of the city’s housing department wasn’t surprised to hear that the program was full. Stroshane is responsible for the homeless prevention program, which provides emergency cash and non-cash assistance to low income people at risk.
In the last four months 39 people asked to join the program compared to 70 in the year running from July 2000 to June 2001.
“We knew even before September that the economy started to slow down,” he said, “and the figures from the program hinted that.”
Bill Lambert, head of the city’s economic development division thinks things will get worse.
“What we’ve seen so far is that the office vacancy rate and the industry vacancy rate went up,” he said. “I expect now to see an impact on retail vacancies. If the retail vacancy rate goes up, it will affect retail employment. It will have a ripple effect.”
The WorkSource One Stop Career Center is at 1950 Addison Street, Suite 105
and can be reached at 644-6085