OKEECHOBEE – The COVID-19 pandemic has continuing impact on employment, Donna Doubleday, Chief Executive Officer of CareerSource Heartland told the Okeechobee County Commissioners at their May 27 meeting.
While Okeechobee County has recently seen an increase in job postings, “the candidate pool has been anemic,” she said.
Those on unemployment assistance have not been required to look for work since March 2020. In addition, those who quit their jobs due to fear of being exposed to COVID-19 were allowed to apply for unemployment.
“Those requirements affect the applicant pool,” she said.
Between March 2020 and April 28, 2021, there were 3,364 unemployment compensation claims in Okeechobee County, said Doubleday. While those on unemployment compensation were encouraged to register with CareerSource, they were not required to do so. From July 1, 2020 to April 30, 2021 CareerSource worked with 825 individuals in Okeechobee County.
The unemployment rate in Okeechobee was 4.4% in March, she said.
Commissioner David Hazellief questioned the unemployment rate. “Every business in town has a help wanted sign,” said Hazellief.
The unemployment rate is based on surveys, Doubleday explained. “It’s not based on actual data. They survey the same individuals for a six week period. They asked questions such as, are they seeking employment or not.”
She said they look at communities with similar characteristics. “You may have surveys done in Okeechobee. You may not,” she added.
“This is probably a flawed system that creates this report,” said Hazellief. “This is not anywhere close to accurate.”
At the end of May, the requirement that those who are receiving unemployment compensation must look for work will be reinstated, Doubleday said. At the end of June, the additional $300 in federal unemployment assistance will end in Florida, she said.
The pandemic rocked the employment world, said Doubleday.
CareerSource is not usually directly involved with unemployment applications, she explained. They do make computers available for those who need access to a computer to apply online.
“The system was not designed to accept the quantity of applications that hit when the pandemic hit,” she explained. Due to the volume of people seeking assistance, the state asked CareerSource to help. From March to December 2020, “the bulk of staff time was spent helping people navigate the unemployment system,” she explained.
Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs asked what happens when a new job seeker comes into CareerSource Heartland.
“First, we will ask if you are a veteran. If you are a veteran, you are going to get priority of service,” said Mary Smith, coordinator of the Okeechobee office.
“Everyone who comes into the center, gets a one-on-one interview,” Smith said. The first interview takes about 90 minutes, she explained.
“It’s all about finding out what skills you have and how to get you back to work,” she said.
She said they ask about prior employment and skills. “If you have limited skills or if you did something that made it impossible for you to stay in the field you have been in, we’re going to push training to get new skills.”
She said a worker may have to take a minimum wage job to pay the bills while they train for a better job.
“You can work while you train,” Smith continued. “We encourage you to work while you train.”
Doubleday said “CareerSource Heartland connects employers with skilled talent to promote and enhance career development opportunities to achieve economic prosperity in our community.”
Workforce goals include:
• Increase the employment, retention, and earnings of participants;
• Increase attainment of recognized postsecondary credentials by participants;
• Improve the quality of the workforce;
• Reduce welfare dependency, increase economic self-sufficiency, meet the skill requirements of employers; and
• Enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the nation
Job seeker services include:
• Priority of service to veterans,
• Orientations information,
• Labor market Information,
• Resume assistance,
Services to businesses include:
• Job order posting and follow-up,
• Referral of qualified candidates,
• Job matching,
• Job fairs and hiring events,
• Detailed labor market information,
• Federal bonding information and assistance,
• Funding for work-based training,
• Assistance with creating job descriptions,
• Job development and
• Identification of hiring and workforce needs
Community collaborations include work with the Chamber of Commerce. Youth Services Council Soft Skills Workshop, Economic Development and Building College & Career Readiness Cultures in Rural Florida School Districts.
“We are actively involved in building college and career readiness cultures in rural Florida School Districts,” she added.