An open letter to the US and Colorado Departments of Labor

To whom it may concern (really, I’m just not sure if this is a federal issue or just one at the state levels)-

I have been out of work for 13 months. It is daunting. The job search process is discouraging and frustrating as 100+ people are fighting over the same one job. But that’s not what I want to say. In these past 13 months, I have been doing a lot of, I guess you might call it soul searching. I have picked up three freelance writing opportunities and would love to make that a full time career. Unfortunately, that is really only possible in major metropolitan areas, not the blue collar Nowheresvilles where a large portion of the population resides. That is also not really what I want to say.

In that soul searching, the thought of going “back to school” crosses my mind at least once a day, sometimes more. I am leaning most heavily toward a second (and third) Bachelor’s degree in graphic design and photography, two things I have dabbled in over the years and think I could enjoy as a career. But so much goes into making that decision final. I would have to move because the local college where I live does not offer photography as a degree program (or as an elective class, as far as I can tell). I am not opposed to moving but moving costs money, money which I do not have.

My second thought was to attend the Salon Professional Academy. This is where you come in. Recently, I attended a “training” course all about how unemployment works and found out that as an unemployment recipient, I can possibly get paid job training. The problem is the training that is currently being offered is not suitable for all (most?) people. Currently, unemployment recipients (at least in Colorado) have the option of going to truck driving school or becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). I have very real problems with this. Not so much the truck driving – because I think 99% of people who aren’t cut out to drive a big rig, KNOW that they aren’t cut out for it – but the CNA training I do have a problem with.

The thing is, I live with a CNA who has been a CNA for somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 years and I know what she goes through dealing with co-workers who don’t really want to work. When you start paying people to train in a field that is really not meant for everyone, you invariably get a lot more people like this. People who see an opportunity to go through training, possibly go through a job placement program and get a job because they’ve now trained to be something that is in high demand. But not everyone is cut out for cleaning up after someone else’s bodily functions and bathing people and lifting people who cannot lift themselves. I know I’m not. But in listening to her stories, day in and day out, there are apparently people out there who didn’t know they weren’t.

I’m not saying cut the CNA training. Not at all. But why not give people other options? Open it up to include any vocational or technical training. Maybe put a cap on how much you will pay (because things like the Technical Institute and Salon Academy can be fairly costly). Maybe up to $5000 or up to $1000 of the training costs. Let people have the option of vocational training that might lead them into a fulfilling career. That, I believe, is where you are going to really help people get back on their feet. Not by giving them an option that they aren’t suited for but might try anyway because they are just that desperate for a job.

Of course, when I asked a job counselor at the workforce center where I live, why there weren’t more programs offered, I didn’t get an answer. I was told there was an opportunity for employers to be reimbursed for employees being trained to do jobs but why, when given the option between hiring me and waiting for me to be trained or hiring Mary who already has the training plus three or five or ten years experience, would they even consider hiring me? I don’t see the logic in it and I don’t think too many employers would either.

I don’t think anything I am asking here is out of line or too much to consider. I’d like to think tax payers would rather see their money go toward sending me to tech school so I can get back into the work force than toward paying for my food stamps (which I’m not receiving but just as an example). Maybe I’m wrong. People are funny about what their taxes pay for. But I think it would go a long way toward lowering the unemployment rate if more people could afford to be skilled in something other than general customer service. Sure, we can all be burger flippers at McDonald’s for $8 an hour (actually, we can’t all be burger flippers; I know I was told I couldn’t, for whatever reason) but wouldn’t it be better for the economy if some of us could afford to become mechanics and hair stylists and medical transcriptionists and dental hygienists and not only make a little more money but maybe actually enjoy our jobs?

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