The unemployment rate in Carroll County is at its lowest in more than five years, and because of recent legislation and programs created by the signing of these laws, it could drop even further.
Carroll County's unemployment rate has dipped below 5 percent earlier this year for the first time since November 2008, according the most recent data available from the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
From 2000 until 2007, the unemployment rate in Carroll County hovered around 3 percent, according to Maryland State Archives. However, in late 2008, it shot above 4 percent and continued to climb, peaking above 8 percent in early 2010 and hovering around 6 percent for the past three years, according to the DLLR.
"It was a tough economic time, a rough time," Denise Beaver, deputy director at the Carroll County Department of Economic Development, said. "I think a lot of people were struggling, both small businesses and those who lost their jobs. Sometimes this involved letting people go."
One of local government's primary goals is assisting individuals in finding jobs throughout Carroll County, said Denise Rickell, manager of the Carroll County Business Employment and Resource Center.
In order to help these local programs achieve their goal, Congress passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which was signed into law July 22. It's the first major reform in the public workforce system in the last 15 years, Rickell said. Though many of the changes are small in scale, in total they could have a significant impact on the center's various programs.
There are three different streams of revenue outlined in the act: youths, adults, and dislocated or laid-off workers, Rickell said. Before the reform, each stream had three performance categories which measured how successful each local program was, but with the signing of the act, each stream will be measured by two additional performance categories.
Currently, the center has 329 adults and dislocated workers enrolled in the WIOA program. Rickell said this number is difficult to track because of the revolving nature of the program.
"As we have people coming in, we have people going out," she said.
However, she said the center met all performance standards they were required to last year. Each year, the center must have 87 percent of its adult and dislocated workers who are enrolled in the program exit with a job. Last year, 302 exited with a job, which exceeded the required percentage, Rickell said.
It also made changes to youth programs, she said. Prior to the reform, 30 percent of the youth revenue stream was spent on out-of-school youths. Now, 75 percent must be spent on training those who may be high school drop-outs, children with disabilities and ex-offenders, to name a few conditions.
It also focuses heavily on assisting those with basic skill deficiencies, such as reading, writing and mathematics; these individuals take priority in the WIOA program.
It will also streamline the way program participants move through the system, Rickell said, creating faster services to get people into training sooner.
"The heart of this is to get people employed quicker and to make sure they are qualified, to make sure they have the skills that employers say they need," Rickell said.
The act also provides grant money for local programs that flows from the U.S. Department of Labor, which is then funneled through the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation to areas and organizations throughout the state.
Helping the unemployed grow, learn
One goal of the center is to help employers find suitable and capable employees and help the unemployed and underemployed find new opportunities, Beaver said.
Through the center, employers have access to no-fee recruitment services, applicant pre-screening, matching and referrals and local, statewide and national exposure for job openings. Meanwhile, the unemployed can meet with an employment consultant, who will construct an employment plan that outlines skills the individual has, what abilities they may lack and what training each person needs to be successful.
Carroll Community College partnered with the center to provide instruction in many skills sets, Beaver said, including Microsoft Office products, nursing programs and other vocational skills.
The center also provides a number of workshops, including resume writing, interviewing skills and one which they call the Self Employment Option, which allows people to explore the advantages and disadvantages of owning your own business and identifies the skills needed to launch such a venture. After the economic downturn in 2008, many people thought they would try their hand at starting up their own business, and this program was created to help them realize that dream, Beaver said.
Another workshop the center holds is Five Steps to Rapid Employment, a two-week intensive job search, which is more of a marketing campaign for those enrolled. It's a way for the unemployed to stay in control and to remain positive despite setbacks, Beaver said.
"[The workshop] is a job matching process rather than just finding any job and it has better statistical results than general job searching," she said.
They also provide teaching more advanced skills to those who are underemployed and are trying to diversify and supplement their existing income, Beaver said.
"The center's basic philosophy is people should always be continuing to improve their skills and learn new skills," she said.
Services help youth, too
And their services are directed toward youth as well. Their youth program is designed to instill the necessary attitude and impart the right skill set that aligns with the individual's interests, Max Bair, youth program director at the Business Employment and Resource Center, said. It is mostly designed for children who come from disadvantaged or low-income families, many of whom do not have high school diplomas, a basic requirement of the majority of jobs, Bair said.
The youth program begins with GED qualification courses at Carroll Community College and then moves on to skill set training that aligns with the individual's interests and aptitudes. The ultimate goal of the program is to enable the participants to be self-reliant, capable and contributing members of society, he said.
"It's a thing that is a win-win for society and participants," Bair said. "We want them to have more hope when they leave then when they did when they walked in."
Participants of the youth program and adults seeking assistance who are currently unemployed may use any and all resources the center provides free of charge, said Rickell, manager of the center, while those looking to further their education while employed may take part in any workshop at no cost but would have to pay a fee for attending an instructional course.
Working on a statewide level
On a state level, Maryland has created the program EARN, a state-funded grant program that stands for Employment and Advancement Right Now, and focuses on the continued education of the workforce through the creation of partnerships between organizations in every business sector and educational institutions. Together, these partners will develop methods to properly train their current and future employees.
"No one else is doing the state-funded workforce grant the way we are doing it," said Maureen O'Connor, director of the office for communications and media relations for the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing & Regulation.
In April, the unemployment rate in Carroll dropped to 4.5 percent, but then rose to 4.8 percent in May, and went up further to 5.4 percent in June. Neither O'Connor nor Rickell could say why this happened, but they both said it's a common trend during the summer months for unemployment to go up, and it usually corrects itself.
Just as Bair said the purpose of the center's programs is to create a positive effect on the economy and society through the education and job placement of participants, O'Connor said the Maryland Department of Labor Licensing and Regulation protects and empowers Marylanders by safeguarding workers, protecting consumers, providing a safety net and cultivating a thriving workforce that can meet the demands of Maryland's dynamic economy.
"Every choice we make is about creating and filling good-paying, sustainable jobs, expanding opportunity, and strengthening Maryland's middle class, now and for generations to come," O'Connor said.
Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information regarding the center's programs, availability and cost, contact an employment consultant by calling 410-386-2820 or visit the center's website at carrollworks.com.