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Spending the day at the county job center

October 21, 2007|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

HAGERSTOWN - What did you think about your old boss?

"Now, you've got to be positive in your answer," John Trader tells a class of 14 at the Washington County One-Stop Job Office this past week.

The question is one he says potential employers might ask job applicants.

"You could say, "I learned a lot from him or her' or, 'I learned a lot about that business.'"

The questions and answers seem to resonate with his audience, all of whom are at the downtown Hagerstown job help center because they want to find a job.

Jim Williams, 36, who says he was laid off from General Electric's lighting distribution center off Maugans Avenue this summer, is among them.

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Williams graduated from North Hagerstown High School in 1989, after completing two years' of training at Vo-Tech to be a plumber. He worked for a plumbing and heating company before being laid off and landing a job in shipping and receiving at GE.

After 15 years there, he says, he was let go when GE decided to move some of its work to Tennessee.

So on Monday, he and his new classmates began a two-day basic job search skills workshop. Taking it is a requirement for anyone such as Williams, who has just filed for a paycheck every other week through Maryland's unemployment benefits program.

Help for 'all kinds'

The workshop is among many services the 14 N. Potomac St. office offers for free to thousands of people in Washington County every year, said Shanon Wolf, director of Maryland's one-stop job centers in Washington, Allegany and Garrett counties.

At the Hagerstown office alone, "we probably see around 6,000 to 7,000 individuals in a year, but many of these do multiple visits," Wolf said. "On an average day, we may see anywhere from 30 to 100 people.

"All kinds of people end up at unemployment for a variety of reasons. One person may be in retail, and the next person who may walk up, may be looking for work as a comptroller."

Last Tuesday, as a reporter arrives, the center is busy. In addition to its regular staff of 12, there also are representatives there from the state Department of Social Services, the Department of Aging and the Department of Rehabilitation Services - all to help people in those areas of life find jobs.

And Trader is just letting his class out for a lunch break midway through the day's 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session.

Computer search

Travis Spoonire, 29, of Hagerstown, is among about a half-dozen people sitting at a bank of computers, doing job searches on the Job Center's Web site. The site, www.mwejobs.com, matches employers and job seekers at no charge.

"Employers can post job listings themselves, or call or fax it in and we'll post it," Wolf said. The number of listings "varies a lot with the economy. We probably see 3,000 to 4,000 openings a year in the system."

On this day, Spoonire, who says he operated machines at a local printing company for five years until he didn't get a job he wanted and left, is asking the computer to search for any job available within 25 miles of Hagerstown. In all, 324 jobs come up.

"This is a good first stop, in my opinion," Spoonire says about using the job center. "It sure beats going every place on foot" and, he says, some companies require applicants to send their applications from the job center.

Another advantage is that one of the first steps for a newcomer at the center is to write a rsum - a basic fill-in-the-blanks one as well as fancier ones using special software are available.

So, Spoonire says, when an online job listing includes a "send resume" button, you just click that and the one you filled out earlier is sent automatically.

While you are looking for jobs, employers also can be looking for rsums on the Web site that match their job requirements, says Suzette Snyder, who supervises the Hagerstown office.

"So you could get a call for a job you hadn't even applied for, just because an employer saw your rsum," Snyder says. "That's what we tell clients: It can work both ways."

The hunt for work

To the public, everything is free at the center.

It is costing Maryland $235,040 this year to operate the local center, according to the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, which runs the job centers. The expense does not include salaries, but does include fax, phone, Internet services, computers, insurance and security.

In addition to helping people connect with jobs, the center partners with the Western Maryland Consortium, an agency that can provide job training to the unemployed.

As of August, the latest month available, 3,320 people - 4.7 percent - were unemployed in Washington County, according to the labor department.

The county's jobless picture is not as good as the average throughout Maryland. Statewide, 3.7 percent were unemployed this August, according to the agency's Web site.

But not everybody who comes to the job center is unemployed.

Wolf said some are students hunting their first jobs. And some have jobs, but are looking for a better position.

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