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Get a Job If You're Lucky, But You Might Be Looking for Another One Soon

Sharing the hopes and disappointments of trying to find work through a 'Job Club.'

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By week six, four more people had gotten jobs. None, however, seemed like it had much long-term potential. One secured a job working at a collection agency. Two found jobs selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. A fourth had gotten a temp job at a warehouse. Altogether, nine of the 31 people who had started Job Club had found work. The names of those who were still looking  had already been referred to the County’s Community Work Experience program, where — short of a last-minute surprise — they would be placed in unpaid jobs that required 20 to 35 hours a week of work. (The duration varied from person to person depending on whether they or the other parent in the family were doing any other approved welfare-to-work activities.)  CWEX was presented as another step on the path to employment, a way to gain experience and fill in those unsightly gaps on a resume. But CWEX jobs rarely turned into permanent employment.

I sat in with Rachael Noble, a human services specialist with the county, as she did CWEX intake interviews for the remaining Job Clubbers I had met. Noble had bright brown eyes, long brown hair and a no-nonsense manner. She was kind and cheerful with the clients who came in, like a dentist assuring you that your teeth will feel a lot better after your root canal is over.

“Basically, what I try to do is find someone a slot that fits in with what their career goals are, incorporate some of their experience or education and mostly their desires,” she told me. But finding a good match wasn’t all that easy, she admitted. “Because this is a welfare-to-work program, they have to do something. So then they end up with a placement that meets their welfare-to-work hours, but may not meet their career goals.

“I do what I can, but I can’t create jobs,” she continued. “If I could, I wouldn’t be a social worker.”

When Joe Ward came in, Noble asked what kind of job he wanted. “Something with computers,” he answered dutifully.

“And as far as career goals?” Noble prompted.

“Career goals?” Ward gave a wry laugh. “Not even anything that’s on my resume.” Noble waited for him to elaborate and he haltingly told her about wanting to help people.

“What got you interested in this?” Noble asked.

Ward shrugged. “It’s just what makes me happy,” he said. After acknowledging that helping people “doesn’t really pay a lot,” he trailed off and looked at his hands, as if caught doing something wrong.

“OK,” Noble said, scrolling through the list of jobs on her screen: Warehouse. Maintenance. Childcare. Receptionist. Production Machine Operator. There was a job working with at-risk youth, but Ward didn’t have the necessary experience. A job as an activities assistant working with seniors at a community center sounded promising, but halfway through the application Noble realized that the job was only 20 hours a week and Ward needed 33 hours.

“There’s a job working for the California Department of Social Services,” Noble offered. She looked up and caught Ward’s eye. “Not exactly where you want to go,” she said.

“No. I don’t expect to go where I want to go.”

“But – we help people,” Noble said.

“Yeah. You do.”

The job’s duties included answering the phones, preparing correspondence, filing, and copying. Noble began filling out the form. For several minutes, Ward watched silently as Noble typed in the information that would assign him to his new job. “Have you ever heard that career goal?” he asked at last. “I’m just wondering if it’s weird.”