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CareerCenter changes worry Oxford Hills job seekers
BUSY PLACE — Job seekers search for employment using the computers at the South Paris CareerCenter. Staff estimate 300-400 people use the Center's walk-in services every month. Due to budget constraints, the Center will be unable to offer the services when it moves from its current location in the Western Maine Community College building in September.
PARIS — Learning how to use a computer and how to navigate the Internet are only some of the things that job seekers say they rely on at the Oxford Hills CareerCenter in South Paris and they are dismayed that these services may no longer be available.
"They gave me confidence," says Paula who has been looking for work for two years. She says she didn't know how to use a computer when she first visited the Center.
"Before I came here I was lucky if I knew how to turn a computer on."
Thanks to the help of the staff, she now feels comfortable navigating the Internet and applying for jobs on her own, she says.
Still, she thinks the changes at the Center will be a blow to job seekers in the area – she has already written to Senator Olympia Snowe asking for help to keep the services.
Last week it was reported that, due to budget constraints, the CareerCenter, administrated by Western Maine Community Action (WMCA) will move from its location at the Western Maine Community College building and focus on training job seekers.
Currently, people can visit the CareerCenter and use its computers and telephone to search for jobs and send off applications. They can also receive one-on-one help from staff.
WMCA staff estimate between 300-400 people use the services every month.
With the changes, these resources will no longer be available at the Oxford Hills location – the CareerCenter in Lewiston will be the closest location for the walk-in services.
On two recent afternoons, job seekers at the Center expressed worry that the changes would leave them without a place to go for help with the job search.
All agreed that the Center's staff and the space they provided were extremely helpful and comforting – the personal, one-on-one assistance they receive at the Center is extremely important, they explain – many would be lost without it.
Elizabeth says she had taken care of her ailing grandmother for almost 10 years. When she decided to re-enter the job market, the CareerCenter's walk-in services were essential – she needed to learn how to use a computer and navigate the Internet and the staff helped her write cover letters and resumes.
Now, Elizabeth is unsure how to move forward in the job market – she is on the waiting list for a training but is unsure what she will do until then.
Dave Rogers, an Army veteran who is a regular at the CareerCenter agrees that the walk-in services offered are essential for job seekers in the area.
Rogers is currently temping with Bonney Staffing, but he wants permanent work – the CareerCenter is his go-to resource.
"This is needed," he says. "It's a mistake to close this facility ... Oxford County expands and it really needs job seekers to have a place to come to."
Another benefit the current facility offers is the free use of the fax machine – many job seekers use it to send in their weekly unemployment claim and say it is a helpful aspect of the facility.
Bitty Cleaves, who has been using the walk-in services off and on since 2004, says the use of the fax machine is "a blessing." For those on unemployment, even the cost of sending a fax can seem like a huge expense.
Cleaves says the Center has always been a safe environment – being unemployed can be scary and the staff have always been sincere and helpful.
"I know they'll have the answer," she says. "And if they don't, they can track down someone who will."
She's got a good lead on a new job, but if it doesn't pan out and the Center isn't there, she doesn't know where she'll go.
While the CareerCenter isn't closing its doors for good, Danielle Giansanti argues that emphasising training without retaining the walk-in services is a mistake.
Giansanti is finishing a medical coding certificate program this month and worries she won't have a place to to go search jobs and ask questions.
"If they do get rid of that [walk-in service] in August, it actually would really hurt me," she explains. "That's when I'm going to be coming down here a lot and really pushing to get a job."
Michelle McAllister has been assisting clients at the CareerCenter for four years. When the current location closes in September, she will be out of a job, but she worries more about the effect on job seekers, she says.
Emphasising training isn't necessarily the solution, she explains – not everyone is qualified to receive the training they want and there are limited spaces available.
Jim Trundy, the CareerCenter program manager for WMCA, explains that qualified people can receive training in a associate degree or certification course – the CareerCenter pays for the course and enrollment allows clients to collect unemployment.
However, people need to qualify for training – not everyone gets in.
Trundy says WMCA plans to enroll around 400 people in training across three counties.
But, McAllister asks, where will job seekers go after they finish their program?
"After their training, they would come in to look for work," she says. "That could take weeks, months – you never know."
Many people that use the services don't have vehicles or can't afford to travel to the CareerCenter in Lewiston – the loss of the walk-in services will be a serious blow to them, McAllister says.
Job seekers agree that traveling to Lewiston is often too expensive for them. They also say that the location is crowded and the staff isn't as helpful or compassionate. Cleaves says she will do everything she can to avoid the Lewiston center.
Paula agrees. "I'll go to the library before I go to Lewiston," she says.
But others say even the library isn't a good bet. Gainsanti says that even though she can use the computers there, there will be no one around to answer questions.
The job seekers are all frustrated that the walk-in services will no longer be available in September. They are unsure where they will go to get help and who will answer their questions.
All hope to land a job before the Center moves.
Even as it winds down its walk-in services, it's clear that people still recognize the CareerCenter as place where they can receive help – on Tuesday afternoon, McAllister was busy setting two job seekers up with accounts at the CareerCenter online job bank.
She said she had never seen them come in before.