It was the dose of hope that Patty Sykes-Joseph needed for nearly a year, ever since she lost her management job when Sears shuttered its portrait studios.
Ditto for Tony Perga, whose 30-year career in banking was halted years earlier after the demise of Colonial Bank.
Both are among 20 long-term jobless in Tampa Bay picked for a new pilot program called Platform to Employment launched Monday during a business lunch at CareerSource Tampa Bay's Florida Avenue center.
The program puts a spotlight on a lingering problem with the recession: more than 3.7 million people who have been looking for work for at least six months. The depth of the problem was highlighted across town Monday during a job fair at the Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg. More than 3,000 job seekers streamed through the half-day event.
"It's not their fault. They've just been discounted from the marketplace," said Joseph Carbone, president and CEO of the Workplace, a Connecticut-based workforce council that pioneered Platform to Employment, or P2E. Tampa was the 10th and final city picked in the P2E's first phase, privately funded through organizations like Citi, the Walmart Foundation and the AARP Foundation.
The funding translates to about $6,000 per person, paying for five weeks of preparation and employers' costs for the first eight weeks of pay for their new hires. Preparation focuses not on training, but on building self-confidence for a group that is prone to depression and other emotional trauma after months of rejection.
It's a no-risk deal, Carbone said, as employers are under no obligation to keep on the new hires after two months.
Dick Peck, who runs QTM Inc., a machine welding operation in Oldsmar, didn't need the sweetened incentive to step up to the plate. He has a relatively small operation — about 30 employees — but a relatively big commitment to those needing work the most. About 15 percent of his current workforce are disabled and 15 percent are students.
"I'll commit to 10 percent of my workforce to this because I believe in this program," he announced during the lunch. "I'm not a charity. I'm looking for people with character who want to work."
Ed Peachey, CEO of CareerSource Tampa Bay, said his agency has had a similar program that pays some of the costs of hiring the unemployed. But he welcomed the latest effort to cut into the scourge of long-term joblessness, which has been particularly harsh in Florida, one of just two states in which more than 45 percent of unemployed have been looking for at least six months.
"When you hear the unemployment rate, I ask you to be wary," Carbone said. "It doesn't tell the whole story."
Although Florida's unemployment rate has fallen from the double digits to 6.2 percent, Carbone noted that it doesn't include some 10 million part-timers who are unable to find full-time work or more than 2 million discouraged workers who have at least temporarily given up their search and are no longer counted as part of the labor pool.