Charlottesville takes aim at unemployment with new job center

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Hollie Lee, the chief of Workforce Development Strategies in the city’s office of economic development, is enthusiastic about the positive impact former probation officer Cory Demchak can have on unemployment in his role heading up the city’s new job center. Photo: Brianna LaRocco Hollie Lee, the chief of Workforce Development Strategies in the city’s office of economic development, is enthusiastic about the positive impact former probation officer Cory Demchak can have on unemployment in his role heading up the city’s new job center. Photo: Brianna LaRocco

Charlottesville’s fight against unemployment has a new crusader in town. Seated in the city’s new Downtown Job Center, Cory Demchak can be found busily at work in his underground lair in the basement of the public library on Market Street.

Demchak mans the just-opened one-stop shop for residents looking for a new job, a better or different job, help with beefing up a resumé, opening an email account, and countless other small but vital tips ranging from the best ways to dress for a job interview to how to get a free bus pass for up to 90 days.

Before the new job center opened, people looking for work had to trek up to Hydraulic Road to visit the Virginia Workforce Center. But for those whose lives revolve around the plethora of services available in the downtown area—who are less likely to have access to a car—the haul can take more than an hour on the city bus, and that’s not taking into consideration any childcare needs or disabilities a person may have.

That’s what a 115-page report found last year after being completed by the Workforce Development Strategic Action Team. And so the city set out to create a new job assistance center closer and more accessible to residents most in need. And the Downtown Job Center was born.

“It’s great for us and our clientele, who aren’t mostly going to have transportation, so they can walk right there,” said Stephen Hitchcock, the executive director of The Haven, a day shelter for homeless people located two blocks from the library.

But the report also found that the existing Hydraulic Road center, which helps about 2,000 people each month, was not able to give job seekers the personal one-on-one guidance that many need in order to find the right job for their circumstances and skill sets. And that’s where Demchak came in.

“What we found is that these individuals need a little bit more intensive hand holding,” said Hollie Lee, the chief of Workforce Development Strategies in the city’s office of economic development. “So rather than just being directed to a computer in the Job Center downtown, Cory Demchak can help them learn how to type on a keyboard or create an email address so that they can actually apply for a job online.”

Demchak previously worked for nearly a decade as a Virginia state probation officer covering Charlottesville, Albemarle, and the surrounding counties, so he understands the job hunting struggles for people whose lives may have gotten off track.

“He has a lot of experience with individuals who have just been recently released [from prison], coming out, not having proper forms of identification, driver’s licenses, not even being able to get their driver’s license because of fees that they owe,” said Lee.

One of the new programs that Demchak will oversee is called GoRide, which gives eligible residents a free bus pass for 30 days. The pass can be renewed for a total of 90 days if the person can show that they’ve been applying for jobs and are trying to find work.

And while Demchak is focused on tailor-fitting the right existing job with the right applicant, the city is also taking another approach by launching a separate program called GoDriver. The program takes approved job seekers and partners with Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) to train them to become local bus drivers, with a starting wage of $14.88/hour for those hired by Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT).

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Charlottesville has approximately 1,200 people who are unemployed, and roughly 20,000 currently working in the city. This gives the city an unemployment rate of about 5.1 percent, which is less than the national average of about 6.2 percent.

The opportunities that Demchak is offering for unemployed people at the new job center and the training and transportation assistance programs that the city is launching are just one piece of an ongoing battle to reduce unemployment in the area.

“We shouldn’t think about this service in isolation from the other services that are out there,” said Mike Murphy, the director of the city’s Human Services department and an author of last year’s study on joblessness in Charlottesville. “There are a lot of people who are doing workforce development stuff. I think it’s Cory’s job to be the hub and make sure those connections get made. This is not a job center that stands separate and apart from Hydraulic Road.”

The $115,000 annual operating expense has been added to the Office of Economic Development’s budget, and the one-time $25,000 start-up cost for furniture, computers and other equipment will come from grants or the city’s Strategic Investment Fund. The center will be open on weekdays.

During his first week at the new job center’s helm, Demchak said 17 people came in seeking some form of help. Seven of those completed job applications for a specific job opening, five wanted help with their resumés, while six people used the computer to search for jobs on their own after he showed them job websites they weren’t familiar with.

One of the last people to come through Demchak’s door on Friday was 53-year old Dwight Morgan. Originally from Detroit, Morgan has been in Charlottesville for about a week and was looking for help with a resumé to help him get a food industry job at a local school. Morgan said he came to the downtown library for help from librarians, who directed him to Demchak. After about an hour, Morgan emerged with a large grin and a pep in his step as he set off on his bike.

“This city’s got a lot more potential for work than most cities,” said Morgan. “I’m going to be back next week to check in with Cory and hopefully I’ll have a job.”

 

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