Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Business

Plan to help Hernando County's jobless could use some support

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Pam Howard, 57, of Brooksville has worked as a clerk for a state agency, as a receptionist for a medical facility and as an aide in Hernando County schools.

But she hasn't worked steadily since 2008.

I talked with Howard and a half-dozen other job seekers at the Hernando Pasco Workforce Board's Mobile One Stop, a rolling employment office that on Monday was parked outside Brooksville City Hall.

What did I hear?

I heard about the bum economy, of course. I heard from people whose job opportunities are limited by the lack of a car or driver's license.

Yes, maybe a couple of people I talked to were going through the motions of looking for work to keep receiving unemployment checks. But for most, these benefits had expired long ago, and when they told me they wanted to work, I heard sincerity.

From several people who told me they are living with friends or family members, I also heard desperation.

And I heard about how their past experience and training didn't quite mesh with the available jobs.

Helping to resolve that situation is the point of the adult technical education program that Michael McHugh, the county's business development manager, has been pushing for about a year.

It probably shouldn't be difficult to convince people the need is urgent in a county where nearly 7,200 workers are unemployed and where the jobless rate is the highest in the Tampa Bay area.

In a nation where haves and have-nots — both individuals and communities — are increasingly sorted by education level, it should be easy to get support for adult vocational training.

In fact, it's difficult to think of any objection to McHugh's idea, especially when the facility, Nature Coast Technical High School, is available at night and during late afternoons and there is state money set aside for just this purpose.

But Hernando County school officials, while talking a good game, have been slow to come up with a plan to submit to the state.

So maybe they need to hear from the people who need the training.

On Monday, Danielle Welch, 27, sat at a computer and scrolled through unpromising openings for the job she's held in the past — housekeeping.

She's applied for a grant to be trained as a certified nursing assistant, which she sees as a first step — "I have to make some money before I can do anything else," she said — to a more skilled medical job.

That's one of the areas McHugh foresees the training program emphasizing, as it should. Health care is the only sector of the economy that grew throughout the recession, said Dave Hamilton, program manager for the workforce board. Manufacturing is a much smaller part of the economy, he said, but it's also been adding jobs steadily for the past three years.

And, even though a lot of factory jobs are highly technical, he said, there are some that a person such as Howard, with a good attitude and an attention to detail, could easily learn with the right training. She would also be open to medical training or updating her computer skills if training were available, she said. "That would be excellent."

Yes, it would be.

Follow Dan DeWitt at [email protected]

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