ROCKLAND, Maine — For someone who last looked for work in the early 1990s, it’s more than a little disconcerting.
Walk into a Home Depot or Walmart asking about employment, says David Grima, team leader for the Bureau of Employment Services at the Rockland Career Center, and you won’t be handed a job application.
Instead, says Grima, “You sit down at a little booth and type in your information,” using a Web-based form. Since the advent of the Internet, the process of finding and applying for jobs has changed dramatically.
“In the 21st century, you look for a job in a different way,” he said.
Without the skills to navigate this new world, the odds begin to stack up against a 45-year-old who lost a 20-plus-year job. That’s where Maine’s career centers come in, offering a host of services to help people train for new jobs, search for openings and win-over employers.
But too many people are not using career centers, Grima says.
“It’s not unknown for people to come to the career center a year after they’ve been unemployed. People aren’t aware that there’s a whole system out there to help them,” he said. “I’d love to have a flashing sign on every corner in every one of Maine’s counties,” telling people about the career centers.
The Maine Department of Labor operates 12 career centers around the state, either solely or in partnership with nonprofit organizations. The coastal centers, in Rockland, Brunswick, Portland and Springvale, are run in partnership with Goodwill Workforce Solutions. Goodwill also runs a smaller center in Belfast.
People tend to understand the role of unemployment insurance, which provides a check for those who are unemployed through no fault of their own and who are available for and able to work. But fewer understand that more help exists, he said.
The career centers rely on federal funding through the Workforce Investment Act created during the Clinton administration. The centers have lists of jobs at Maine’s Job Bank. Once people register their information, which involves answering a series of questions online — which career center staff will help them do — the job bank will find matches for them.
“The Maine Job Bank looks for jobs on their behalf,” Grima said, comparing it to an online dating service that finds appropriate matches.
Nine of ten job openings are posted online now, he said, so if seekers are not looking there, their odds of success are reduced. Career center staff also work with employers, encouraging them to list their job openings with the job bank.
But the centers offer so much more, Grima said, all of which is free. Staff teach half-day and daylong workshops in job search, interview skills and resume and cover-letter writing, “the basic tricks of the trade to get a job,” he said, along with some one-on-one help and encouragement.
Career centers also have money to pay for training. Though not every request is funded, programs that conclude with a certificate or license being granted in a field with demonstrable job demand are favored.
Certified nursing assistants are one high-demand job field. “There is an unmeetable demand in the health care field,” Grima said.
Truck driving and welding courses have been funded. Through another program, on-the-job training, half an employee’s wages are paid during the training phase. Grima said the center once trained someone to help run a crematorium through this program.
In coastal Maine, Grima said, tourism-related jobs are an option for seasonal jobs. Those receiving unemployment compensation can suspend their checks while they work those jobs, thereby extending their benefits. Working gets people out in the world, where they may come into contact with a potential permanent job, he said.
Though would-be employees should have contacted hotels and restaurants in February, he said those businesses often need workers again at the end of August, “when the work force either goes back to college or back to Romania,” a reference to the foreign workers who often work those jobs.
Grima is not only a career center worker, he’s a customer. After almost 20 years working steadily in the midcoast as a journalist, he was laid-off and began using the Rockland center in his job search. That experience is common, he said, in this post-recession era.
He rejects the familiar refrain that job seekers have to leave the state, or at least move to Greater Portland to find work.
But you can search for work anywhere from your desktop by virtue of online tools. “You can search jobs in any county in the country,” Grima said, yet the job seeker also may find employment close to home.
On Thursday, May 17, the 15th annual Spring Career & Resource Fair will be held 1-4 p.m. at the Spectacular Event Center at 395 Griffin Road, Bangor.
For information on career centers or Maine’s Job Bank, visit http://www.mainecareercenter.com or https://gateway.maine.gov/dol/mjb/jobseeker/jobseekerwelcome.aspx.