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Monday, April 27, 2009

Employment Monday: NPR

by Karen Schaefer
Audio for this story will be available at approx. 9:00 a.m. ET

Karen Schaefer for NPR
The Huron County Job and Family Services' mobile job unit brings the job search directly to unemployed people in northern Ohio.

Karen Schaefer for NPR
Mary Reynolds, who works for the Huron County Job and Family Services department, speaks with job-seekers aboard the RV.

Morning Edition, April 27, 2009 · For people looking for a job, traveling to the unemployment office may not seem out of the ordinary. But what if the office came to you?

In northern Ohio, workers in Huron County are seeing just that. The Huron County Job and Family Services' mobile job unit is a recreational vehicle equipped with three computer work stations separated by doorways, forming tiny private offices. Along one side is a bench for job-seekers waiting their turn.

Since December, the county has posted the highest unemployment rate in Ohio. One in every six adults, or 17.5 percent, is out of work.

Huron County's job RV is the only one in Ohio, but the concept is catching on elsewhere. The U.S. Department of Labor operates 40 mobile job units to help people find work after natural disasters strike. In Florida, North Carolina and Kentucky, county agencies are using them to reach out to unemployed residents.

In an empty gravel parking lot near the railroad tracks in the small town of Willard, Ohio, the oversized white recreational vehicle idles in the chilly morning air. Just after 10 a.m., a battered red pickup truck pulls into the lot. A middle-aged man in work clothes gets out and opens the RV door.

"Is there any work?" asks Roger Cantu, who has been unemployed since September, when he lost his maintenance job. "I've tried everywhere. I mean, I've helped friends cut wood, things like that — hauled junk, trash."

Cantu isn't alone. In Willard, a textbook publisher and a lawn-mower manufacturer have laid off more than 1,000 people.

Sue White, who manages the Huron County mobile job unit, a free government service, travels each day with her assistant to small communities around the county.

She hands Cantu a list of available jobs, including a sales opening at American Timber and Steel in Norwalk, a few miles to the north.

White says the job mobile offers several advantages.

"There's definitely a transportation issue: Some people just do not have a car," she says, adding that when gas was expensive not everyone could afford to travel to the Job and Family Services main office in Norwalk.

"Especially now with so many people out of work, that job store is packed," she says. That makes it hard to give job-seekers one-on-one time to help them create a resume or review an existing one, she says.

As the RV fills up with job-seekers, Manuel Gonzalez takes a seat on the bench. He wants some advice on starting a small restaurant. It's only his second trip to the job mobile, but he says he will be back.

"I think it's the best idea they ever had," he says.

White says that even though she can't find jobs for everyone, people still appreciate the service.
"There's been some tears, of course — there's been some people who have cried — but generally, I think, people are real thankful for this service," she says.

Karen Schaefer reports for member station WKSU.

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