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The county's Career Resource Center, which opened its doors in September, is seeing twice the business it expected as it copes with the fast-growing ranks of the unemployed.

Services supervisor Todd Brace estimates at least 100 clients have come to the office so far, and there is up to a two-week wait to attend weekly orientation sessions.Most of the center's clients are "white-collar" workers, many of them out of work for the first time.

"I don't know what we'd have done if we hadn't opened the center,given the current economy," Brace said.

Staffed with two counselors and a secretary, the center -- located in the county's Hickory Ridge building and part of the county's Employment and Training Center -- aims to help workers who are unemployed because of layoffs or plantclosings. The center also is available for Employment and Training clients who have completed educational or vocational programs and are ready to begin their job search.

It is funded primarily through the federal Job Training Partnership Act, with no county money going toward the program. Brace estimates the budget for start-up costs and staffing at $75,000.

A client's introduction to the center begins with an orientation to services, including interviewing and job searchworkshops, one-on-one career counseling, and use of a job search workroom with reference materials, computers for cover letters and resumes, a laser printer, and phones to call potential employers.

The center has alerted the local business community to its existence and urged employers to consider their clients when jobs become available.

"These people have a good work history and have become unemployed through no fault of their own," said center counselor Pat Shipley. "We can make referrals and encourage employers to let us know when theyhave openings."

The center has placed 49 clients in jobs with local companies including HTS Environmental and Hildenbrand Medical International.

It sponsors weekly job club meetings where clients can share job leads and gain the motivation needed to handle rejections.

Greg Johnson, 40, who was laid off from his job in October as a senior design technician with Grinnel Fire Protection Systems in Guilford, has become a regular at the center.

He can often be found in the center workroom writing cover letters and doing research on potential employers. Currently he's taking upper-level design courses at Catonsville Community College to update his skills. He hopes to remain in the design field, possibly working in an architectural firm.

"(The center) helped me to schedule myself and determine how to expressmyself and emphasize my strong points by writing cover letters to employers," Johnson said.

Fellow center clients are potential sources of information about job openings, he said.

"Sixty-eight percentof jobs come through networking," Johnson said.

Through its "rapid response" service, the center has reached many people about to enter the job market to make them aware of the center. When Ingram Book Co. of Savage and Home Health Education Services of Columbia announcedplans to relocate, center staff visited the companies to make employees aware of available services.

"The first thing you try to do isput the folks' minds at ease, let them know that you understand the situation, and the anxiety they're feeling is normal," Brace said. "You want to leave the message that we've got the services that can help them sort out their needs, and we can sit down individually and work out a plan to get them re-engaged in employment."

The center is screening potential employees for Ford Motor Credit Co., which plans to open an office in Columbia.

At an interviewing workshop earlierthis week 10 job-seekers listened to tips on how to have a successful job interview, ranging from gathering as much information as possible about the company to running your hands under warm water before the interview to avoid the deadly clammy handshake.

Jutta Alberts, who lost her job with Pan Am recently after 25 years there as a flightattendant, said she has found the center's services helpful.

"It addresses the specific needs of the individual," she said. "I have been in airlines for 25 years. To come out of that, it's hard to think of anything else to do."

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