Job Placement Organizations Adapt To Escalating Demand For Services

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Bryan Foote was down on his luck when he stumbled across the CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion website back in June. Foote, 55, was a licensed captain giving tours in Crystal River when the COVID-19 pandemic started. The severity of the virus caused a business shutdown that left Foote, like many other Floridians, stressed and jobless.

For nearly 30 days, he searched online for another job, combing through listings on Indeed in an endeavor that led nowhere. That changed when he sought out the services of CareerSource. The organization set Foote up with a career coach who walked him through the job search process on a nearly daily basis.

“After it was all said and done, within a week I had a job,” Foote said.

In the midst of a public health crisis that has torn through the country, job placement and training organizations have been left to pick up the pieces of a beat up economy.

Unemployment rates in North Central Florida reached unprecedented highs over the past six months, making the search for jobs that much more essential. In Marion County, where Foote lives, the unemployment rate has been consistently high, peaking at 12% in April.

Unemployment rates in North Central Florida rose significantly during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic. The data presented is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rates are not seasonally adjusted, and data for August 2020 will be released later this month. (Hannah Himmelgreen/WUFT News)

For this reason, organizations like CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion and CareerSource North Central Florida have made extensive changes to adapt to this influx of COVID-19 layoffs.

“We are getting a lot of calls from first time unemployed people,” said JoAnna McHugh, the project director for CareerSource North Central Florida. “So we’ve started talking about how we can increase our knowledge to the community about our services.”

The answer to this, they discovered, was expanding virtual services. CareerSource North Central Florida quickly transitioned online, training staff how to manage online meetings, upload recorded training orientations to the main website and transpose client questionnaire forms to an online platform.

The organization has also arranged a series of virtual workshops. Going virtual has allowed CareerSource North Central Florida to expand their listing of workshops from about nine previously available at career centers to about 50 online.

McHugh said she’s proud of the increase in numbers because they have given job seekers more immediate access to the services they need.

“If you can’t sleep at two in the morning because you’re not sure what you’re going to do or how you’re going to pay the bills, you can go to our website, see our services and start getting assistance,” she said.

Though CareerSource North Central Florida has been busier than ever, the organization has made sure that its staff are doing well by giving everyone, especially staff in rural communities, laptops and access to the internet so they can work from home. The transition online is something that the organization anticipates will continue for the time being.

A little farther south, CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion has adapted similarly.

“Our online services have grown so much that we’re looking at how we can continue blending the traditional face-to-face service model with an online service model,” said Rusty Skinner, CEO of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion.

Though it’s career centers are open by appointment only, much of the organization’s services have transitioned online. Even still, COVID-19 safety regulations are in place when customers enter each career center.

One of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion’s priorities is not only job placement but also skill training. It recently partnered with the College of Central Florida to offer rural residents lab space to complete online education platforms that build individual skills. Skinner hopes similar online partnerships continue to help people recover beyond the pandemic.

Leadership in both organizations said that COVID-19 has created a unique challenge to their traditional methods of assisting job-seekers.

“There are people from all walks of life that are contacting us now,” said Betty Holmes, a program manager for CareerSource North Central Florida. “They’ve been affected in every aspect and every industry.”

Both organizations ultimately hope that virtual services continue to grow so that they can effectively help all the people who have been affected by COVID-19 and still need assistance.

“Although it’s a time of unknown and unrest for a lot of people,” JoAnna McHugh said, “it has really shown that CareerSource is essential and we have stepped up to the challenge.”

About Hannah Himmelgreen

Hannah is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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