Getting Back on the Market

Unemployment in Door County is at the highest level in over 20 years, and Melissa Emery of the Door County Job Center wants people to know that there are programs to help Door County residents get through tough financial times.

The county’s unemployment rate hit 6.6 percent in September, up from 3.4 percent in the same month one year ago. The shipbuilding industry alone has seen over 550 layoffs this year, and Emery is striving to get dislocated workers the help they need to avoid a larger crisis.

“We want to get people in here early, before they’re in a situation where they miss out on some of their unemployment benefits and get into dire straits,” Emery said.

She urges laid off workers to visit the Job Center as soon as they get notice, or even if they have reason to believe a layoff may be on the horizon. Getting back on the path to employment early can help beat the frustration, and in some cases depression, that can accompany long-term joblessness.

“I had a man call me recently asking whether he should withdraw his 401k because he was on the verge of losing his home,” she explained. “I didn’t know what to tell him, but we can connect people to other resources. Another woman recently called here in tears because she didn’t know what to do after losing her job. People in our society so identify with our jobs that it becomes our identity. When we lose it, it can be traumatic.”

Emery said her office, which operates under the umbrella of the Women’s Employment Project with funding through the Workforce Investment Act, offers two primary options to help get dislocated workers back into the job market. One is helping people go back to school to become more valuable in the eyes of employers. That includes help applying for continuing education and financial aid, but also vouchers for up to $1,250 per semester for books and tuition.

The other option dislocated workers can take advantage of is what Emery called “intense job-seeking help.”

“We offer one-on-one counseling with a case manager who can meet with you weekly,” she said.

Those counselors help people navigate through a job market that has changed dramatically in the last five years and requires much more than checking help wanted ads in the paper.

“A lot of it is using networks,” Emery said. “You often need to make a contact with an employer before a job is posted because so many people are out there looking for work. We talk to people about joining professional and social networks, such as Linked In[, a social job networking site for professionals]. Basically anything you can do to create partnerships.”

Group workshops and weekly computer classes help searchers learn how to use such tools, and Emery said one point of emphasis is getting people set up with email accounts through weekly computer classes.

“We want to prepare them to use every avenue to get back to employment,” she said.