Unemployment numbers may be dipping slightly, but there are still a lot of people looking for work, and looking for heating and food assistance.

The unemployment rate in Knox and Lincoln counties was 7.8 percent in October, which was the same as October 2010. Waldo County, with 8.8 percent unemployment, is lower than last year, but the rate is almost a full percentage point higher than the rate for the whole state and higher than the national average.

It may be better than the 11.6 percent rates seen in the area two years ago, but it is not good news for job seekers.

And there are still plenty of people looking for work.

For the past several months, the number of visitors coming into the Maine Career Center in Rockland, on the second floor of the Breakwater Building across from McDonald's on Route 1, has numbered around 800.

It can get as high as 1,000 a month in midwinter, according to David Grima, manager of the Maine Career Center in Rockland.

"I can tell you one thing," said Grima. "Anyone who thinks people are living high off the hog on unemployment in Maine should try it themselves. It doesn't matter what you made, even if it was an enormous salary, the highest amount you can get on unemployment in Maine is $360 a week. And that's taxable."

"There are a lot of people looking, but they are not all unemployed," said Grima. "Some lost their full-time jobs with benefits and now have part-time jobs, others were cut back to part-time. Some are looking for second jobs. There is a lot of under-employment here."

"And the absolute biggest obstacle to people finding jobs is a lack of computer skills," he said. This is particularly difficult for people in their mid-30s and older who took jobs and stayed in them. When the recession hurried the closure or down-sizing of jobs that local workers had held for decades, it left a lot of local people in their 30s, 40s and 50s without a job and without the right skills for the employers who are hiring.

"Look at the past few years. Great Eastern Mussel Farms closed, Slyvania downsized, Tibbetts changed hands. Some of that was light industrial, and people lost jobs there," said Grima. "They didn't need computer skills when they got hired. Now, they do. Computer skills are needed for almost every job. Even to fill out a job application, now, you need to know how to use a computer."

"You need them even to look for a job," said Grima.

Training Opportunities for Job Seekers

The Career Center offers free hands-on training on how to define your job skills, identify job interests and skill strengths, conduct an online job search, write a cover letter and resume and practice live interviews. Classes are free and offered monthly.

"There is this idea that we see mostly people who have few skills and low education levels here," said Grima. "That isn't true. We see everybody, young and old, and we see a lot of people with a high school education and some college."

There are dozens of computer skills courses available through adult education in Knox, Lincoln and Waldo counties, from the very basic how-to-turn-the-computer-on course to advanced database courses. Fee waivers may be available.
Maine Apprenticeship Program Helps Employers

People who are unemployed and who are interested in starting a new career in some manufacturing, construction, health care, information technology, energy, telecommunications and other job areas may be eligible for a paid apprenticeship.

Since 1937, registered apprenticeship programs have been in place to train workers for American industry. The Maine Apprenticeship Program connects job seekers looking to learn new skills with employers looking for qualified workers by helping to set up structured training programs designed to meet the specific needs of the employers. Apprentices learn on the job and in related classroom instruction.

Apprenticeship programs can be sponsored by employers, employer associations, or labor/management groups. MAP may reimburse up to 50 percent of an apprentice's tuition costs. In addition, the apprentice works full-time for their employer by applying related coursework and newly acquired skills to accomplish the job.

Health Care Jobs

"There are lots of health care jobs," said Grima. "It is the only sector that continues to grow."

The Maine job listings are full of health care jobs, from professional positions at Waldo County Hospital to personal support staff in home health care and certified nursing assistants.

Training for certified nursing assistants, often with specialties that may increase the hourly wage, are available through adult education. They cost from $800 to $1,000 and usually run 200 hours. Students must typically have a GED or have completed high school.

"Yes, it is completely possible that we would pick up the tab for that," said Grima. "People have to apply. It's a process, but, yes. Look on Onet.org. There are a lot of jobs."

In the current local listings at Onet.org, one part-time permanent position offers health, vision, and dental benefits, along with other standard benefits usually reserved for full-time employment.

Unemployed Veterans Get Top Priority

The Career Center provides priority service to U.S. military veterans by designating a Veteran's Representative to help them negotiate the job search, including helping them get training.

"We have had a fair number," said Grima. "We had 49 veterans in November."

The Vet Reps provide career decision-making guidance to help veterans translate military skills to good jobs in the civilian workforce, information on training or education opportunities, and referrals to other state and federal resources available to veterans.

Job Seekers with a Criminal Past

Job seekers with a criminal record, even an old one, are at a disadvantage in a competitive job market, but certain programs can help them land a job or get the training necessary to become a valued employee.

The Career Center manages the bonding program that allows an employer who would like to hire an ex-con do so without having to pay to bond them. Fidelity Bonds provide insurance guarantees for job honesty and an incentive to employers. The bonding is free. Employers may also be eligible for tax credits if the ex-convict was recently released from jail. Other partially reimbursable training or apprenticeship opportunities may also apply, depending on the career and the applicant.

"There is a lot of training and assistance available to make a career switch," said Grima. "People who are low income and have been laid off are very eligible for help with certifications and licenses, such as commercial driver's training."

"There is also the Competitive Skills Scholarship Program," he said. "It's a lottery for a four-year scholarship to college to study for specific high-wage, high-demand jobs."

"We may not get you a job right away," said Grima. "But there is a lot we can do in terms of finding opportunities. We can help you in the right direction."

The Rockland Maine Career Center is located at the Breakwater Building, 91 Camden Street, Suite 201, Rockland. They can be contacted at 596-2600 or 1-877-421-7916.