Job-Seekers Turn to Training Services

Photo: <b>Robert Kjellberg</b>, a Berkeley resident who has been unemployed for two years, spends around 25 hours per week at a job training institute to boost his chances of getting a job.
Simone Anne Lang/Photo
Robert Kjellberg, a Berkeley resident who has been unemployed for two years, spends around 25 hours per week at a job training institute to boost his chances of getting a job.

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For more than two years, unemployed Berkeley resident Robert Kjellberg has spent roughly 25 hours a week at a local job training center, developing basic computer skills and waiting for someone to call him for an interview.

The former general contractor said he found himself without work in 2007 as the housing market began to falter. Lacking even the most basic office and computer skills, Kjellberg said his training has led to significant improvement, something he hopes will translate into finally finding a job.

"I can type 50-60 words per minute now; I am also getting really good with (Microsoft) Excel," said Kjellberg.

But despite his training, Kjellberg continues to find himself counted among unemployed job-seekers in Berkeley, who amounted to 10.3 percent of the workforce in December, down from an 11.2 percent peak in August.

Kjellberg said he has wandered from one part-time job to another, but has yet to find any permanent employment.

"I have lost so much confidence," he said. "I have to dedicate all my time to training to even have a chance. I have applications out, but all of my time is spent learning these programs. No one has called me back."

Like many unemployed workers with specific skill sets, Kjellberg has turned to job training service providers such as Inter-City Services, a private, nonprofit vocational training institute located in South Berkeley.

According to Mansour Id-Deen, executive director of the institute, there has been a substantial influx of participants in programs that aim to help job-seekers develop proficiency with computer software used in the workplace, such as Microsoft Word.

"This is a job placement strategy, a way to enhance their job search and their ability to be employed," he said.

Jennifer Light, owner of ArtLinks Staffing Inc., a staffing and recruiting agency located in North Berkeley, also said a majority of the individuals her company assists attend classes at local institutions to improve their job opportunities.

"They are taking courses to have, essentially, more marketable skills," she said.

But for Milford Watson, a 69-year-old former federal accountant with more than 25 years of experience, the lack of work opportunities in his chosen field have forced him to turn to professions otherwise foreign to him.

Watson is currently training at Inter-City Services while looking for a job as either an electrician, contractor or property manager. But finding a job has still proven difficult.

"I can't get past the application process," he said. "I've been unemployed for almost two years. I'm qualified. But so are a lot of other people. There are just too many of us looking for too few spots."

The city of Berkeley has attempted to aid struggling job-seekers by utilizing federal stimulus funds for projects, such as the repaving of University Avenue, to try and create job opportunities, according to city reports. Those jobs, however, were only temporary.

The general fund, the city's main principal discretionary funding source, accounts for $148 million of the city's projected $322 million budget for the current fiscal year, according to the city's Web site. But only $263,016 of that budget will be directly used for training and employment services, in the form of a summer youth employment program aimed at providing the unemployed with seasonal work.

Dave Fogarty, economic development project coordinator for the city, said that Berkeley will continue to push for more federal funds to improve individuals' opportunities for employment.

Fogarty added that the city is seeking a second stimulus package to further support its unemployment programs. But as of now, he said there is no opportunity to maneuver federal funds in the city's budget.

"Berkeley is going to try to maintain the services that it has in this time of economic crisis," he said. "There will be an extreme reluctance to cut any program that was intended to benefit the unemployed."


Contact Katie Nelson at [email protected]

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