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Q&A: BERC’s new manager says business center can help people find jobs during pandemic

Heather Powell, manager of Carroll County's Business and Employment Resource Center.
Heather Powell, manager of Carroll County's Business and Employment Resource Center. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

For residents stripped of their job during the coronavirus pandemic and seeking a new career path, the Carroll County Business/Employment Resource Center might be able to help.

Heather Powell is the new manager of BERC, an American Job Center at 224 N. Center St., Westminster. BERC staff help people with resumes, hunt for jobs online, offer training, connect businesses with potential employees, and more, whether there’s a pandemic or not.

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BERC reopened by appointment only beginning July 27 and lately has been helping customers navigate the working world in the context of COVID-19. According to the Maryland Department of Labor, unemployment in Carroll County rose to 9% in April but fell to 6.4% in June, when the state stood at 8.3%.

The Times connected with Powell to ask how BERC’s been helping residents find jobs during this unusual time. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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Q: How has BERC adapted its services during the pandemic?

A: I would say that was a quick pivot because we had traditionally been center-based services. When the center was closed, we had to quickly reevaluate how we provided our services, so we started providing virtual appointments. Staff were contacting our existing customers through phone and the internet. The hard part of that is we have a significant portion of the citizens that come to BERC to use our computer resources. They might not have technology available to them in their homes. As we focus on our reopening by appointment, we’re really trying to reach the people that we can’t reach virtually.

Q: What has your staff been helping people with lately?

A: We’ve had people come in for resume development, to do some online job search and applications. That’s been a majority of our appointments. We also provide youth services to youth who may have barriers to employment, and that is a range of out of school youth up to age 24. We can get them on a career path to find secure and sustainable employment. Our youth staff has been able to meet in person with several youths that are interested in pursuing careers and training.

We also are doing career assessments. We’ve had people call and say, “I don’t think I’m going to be going back to my same job, but I’m not sure what I want to do.” So one of the first steps we would take with them is helping them do an assessment, which looks at things they’re interested in and skills they might have, and then match that to work domains, or areas where they may be successful.

What we’re finding as businesses reopen, there will be some businesses that will not be returning or will have to close.

Q: What type of safety measures are in place at BERC?

A: We let people know when they make their appointment what to expect, which includes a temperature check and asking the pertinent questions that everybody asks, such as, have you been ill or had a fever? Have you been around anybody that’s sick or diagnosed with COVID-19? They proceed to individual offices and staff and the customer are socially distanced during the appointment. We have protective equipment in place, like sneeze barriers. We have covers on the computer keyboards. We’re sanitizing after the station’s been used. You have to be masked at all times in the building. Our staff are wearing masks also.

Q: Are you seeing any fields that are hiring more people since the pandemic started?

A: Retail is steadily hiring. Some of our smaller businesses in the county are still hiring. Surprisingly, Carroll County is very resilient and the businesses most affected by this have been retail and restaurants. While some are flourishing, others aren’t. Tourism, hotel, motel — that’s been hit hard, and then the service industry.

Q: Generally, what advice do you give to people that are looking to hire or are looking for jobs in this time of economic downturn and pandemic?

A: I think what I would say to people is, don’t wait. There are always things you can be doing to make yourself the best candidate for the next job.

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The world just did a pivot and technology is here. It’s been our lifeline during this pandemic, and it’s not going to go away, the way we’ve had to find new ways of doing business and connecting with each other virtually. So your best weapon is to be prepared in that. We hear from people that come in say, “Oh, I don’t use technology.” You need to use technology now. Whether you do that through self learning online or you reach out to us to see if we have some resources, we can help you. When you have questions, we’re there to help you figure out the solutions to those so you can put your best foot forward.

Our website [carrollworks.com] is a great resource where people can find job leads. Businesses can submit their job openings to us on our website, and then we post them. To make an appointment online, there’s a form that pops up with a link to a new customer submission. They can fill out their information, that way we can contact them, or they can call us to directly at 410-386-2820.

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