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    The Economy: Jobless rate hits 13%, sending more into training

    By Sarah L. Smith
    Coastal Observer

    Georgetown County’s unemployment rate hit 13 percent in January, according to figures issued this week.

    That’s a rise of 1.7 percent and means another 500 people are looking for jobs.

    Brenda England, the director of the Georgetown County Workforce Center, said she’s seen a larger volume of people coming to the center in the past few months.

    While “different people have different needs,” she said, most of the folks she sees need unemployment assistance or want help job searching.

    The center is also one of the places in Georgetown County that has seen an increase in the number of people looking for help learning new skills.

    Its on-the-job training program can place a participant with an employer for up to 400 hours to train for a full-time position. The employer is reimbursed for 50 percent of the person’s wages during the training.

    Another job training option is available with the Jump Start program, sponsored by the S.C. Employment Commission. The four-week program lets participants learn how to perform specific job duties. While training, they are paid by the commission.

    If people come to the county center without a high school diploma or a GED, they can take advantage of the center’s partnership with the Howard Adult Education Center.

    “They provide us with an instructor who will work with the people at their own pace,” England said.

    Zach Grate, coordinator of literacy and community at Howard, said people come to his center to brush up on existing skills, learn new ones, or get help with résumés. But when the job market shrinks, people think about education.

    “Anytime when there are a lot of layoffs, school is the first thing people start thinking about,” Grate said.

    If they’re thinking about going to college to get an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, Howard can help people get a GED ­— a necessity if they want to apply for higher education programs.

    If higher education is not a goal, others can find assistance with their literacy or job skills.

    Employers want potential employees to take work readiness tests, Grate said.

    Howard offers the test, and those who pass get a “job readiness certificate” they can put on their résumé.

    The center has been busy since unemployment numbers began to rise in 2008.

    “Last year we dealt with almost 1,400 folks. This year we’ll probably see 2,000. It’s been a year where a lot of folks are coming who need help in a lot of areas,” Grate said.

    When they come, he said, it doesn’t cost them anything.

    “We’re here to help people, help people get jobs, help people learn how to read and write and better their skills,” he said.

    “Basically, if you are a person who qualifies for our program from ages 16 to whatever, you’re a person we’d love to work with.”

    Georgetown County School Superintendent Randy Dozier, who is a member of the state’s Workforce Investment Board, said he visited a “one-stop shop” similar to the Georgetown Workforce Center in Charleston.

    Impressed by the size and scope of the Charleston “shop,” he said he’d like to see the Georgetown center become a larger facility that will cater to more people.

    Rising unemployment is going to bring even more people back to school to get their GEDs or just get more education, he said.

    Adding more literacy services and GED programs like those at Howard would also help meet the needs of those wanting to find a job.

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