W hile the job market is still bleak in Washington County, the town of Whitehall is offering some on-the-job training to the counties’ unemployed so they are better prepared to enter the work force when the opportunity presents itself.
Whitehall is one of several communities and organizations throughout the area that participates in Washington County’s Work Experience Program.
The program puts welfare recipients back in the work place by providing unpaid positions with local municipalities or nonprofit agencies.
“It’s designed to help those in receipt of social security benefits gain better work habits and eventually find a full time job,” Holly Rapp, director of public assistance for Washington County, said. “It’s a tool to provide a greater understanding of what the work environment is like.”
The program offers participants a number of positions depending on their particular skill set and previous experience.
“There is a whole gamut of work experiences,” said Rapp. “We try to fit it to a person’s particular skill set and it has to be a non-profit or government job or task.”
Some of those positions have included cleaning offices, working the switchboard at the county, an assortment of clerical tasks, answering phone calls, working at the recycling center, helping at the Office for the Aging and even some light physical labor.
“It’s a good program. It’s worked out very well for us,” Supervisor Richard Geezer Gordon said.
Gordon’s used as many as three or four workers at a time in a variety of roles from clerical duties to housekeeping chores, like the upkeep of the grounds or washing trucks at the town garage, jobs that paid employees often don’t have time for.
He even put one girl to work pulling weeds for two days earlier this summer which in turn, spurned her to find a job doing something else.
“I’ll take all the help they can give me. I’ll send them anywhere I need them,” Gordon said.
In many instances the partnership between job providers and the job seekers is symbiotic. The participants gain valuable experience they can use to find a job and the municipality or organization gets some extra work done at no cost to themselves.
“They get to have some hours, and we teach them some good working habits. It helps social services and it saves us a little money, not much, but some. Every dollar I save is a dollar I don’t have to raise in taxes,” Gordon said.
Rapp said the work experience really helps participants because they get to mirror strong work habits and it boosts their self-esteem.
The program isn’t a new idea.
Rapp said the program has existed since she started working at the county more than two and a half decades ago. “It’s been very successful,” she said.
The program is used in conjunction with other services offered by the county-job counseling, Community Solutions for Transportation fund, Front Door Diversion Program-that provide participants with the opportunity to acquire work skills and experience that hopefully weans them off welfare and helps them find a job.
“It’s everything we do in conjunction with this program that helps these people find jobs,” said Rapp.
Gordon has so much faith with some of the workers that last month he asked the town board to appoint one participant to serve as an unpaid deputy town clerk, helping fill in on days when other employees couldn’t work. However, before she even served a single day at the position, she left for another job, which is the whole point of the program.
“She was really good and we hated to lose her, but we taught her some good lessons and she found a job.”