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Phones Grow Silent as Industry Council's Image Takes a Battering

November 23, 1987|GLENN F. BUNTING | Times Staff Writer

The telephones rang off the hook at the Los Angeles City Private Industry Council (PIC) last summer when radio and TV ads featuring Mayor Tom Bradley and celebrity Ed McMahon urged the business community and the unemployed to participate in the federal Job Training Partnership Act.

The PIC's $160,000 marketing campaign was finally starting to pay dividends, after being pulled off the air months earlier by radio stations that had been owed $22,445 in advertising fees.

During a heavy promotional push in July and August, 295 employers and 1,397 out-of-work residents responded to the Bradley and McMahon spots, according to PIC figures. The callers were referred to 55 job placement programs, which each year receive a total of $42 million in federal grants to train disadvantaged youths, single parents on welfare and non-English-speaking immigrants for work in a variety of occupations. These include positions such as computer programmers, auto mechanics, cable installers, electricians, carpenters, security guards and cooks.

Ads Stopped Running

Today, as the Private Industry Council is embroiled in controversy amid allegations of mismanagement, the phone calls only trickle in to the job hot line. The radio and newspaper ads stopped running in September when the PIC canceled its marketing contract after charges that government funds were mishandled.

The industry council's board of directors decided not to hire a new public relations firm until the City Council acts on its $1.3-million operating budget request, which has been held up for six months until the crisis is resolved. Meanwhile, the PIC's president, Dominick J. Ramos, has been under attack for several weeks and may be fired or asked to resign as early as today, board members said.

The troubles surrounding the PIC have made it even more difficult for some training programs to find jobs for former drug addicts, gang members and felons, according to interviews with managers at 10 job placement facilities. Although these programs rely primarily on their own recruiting efforts to secure job openings, the number of PIC referrals they receive has decreased in recent weeks.

In October, only 16 employers contacted the PIC about qualifying for tax credits and other cash incentives, down from 182 in August. The PIC reported receiving 167 calls last month from city residents seeking work, compared to 743 in August.

"We do get a lot of calls still from participants, but our employer calls have dropped because mainly we depend on radio and newspaper ads to attract our employers," said Walter White, PIC assistant vice president for marketing. "Where we are really suffering as a result of this controversy is not attracting employers for the past two months."

Under the Job Training Partnership Act, the federal government distributes money to the City Council, which is supposed to form a partnership with private industry to promote the program and funnel grants to local agencies. The PIC board consists of 29 business leaders who are appointed by the mayor. Seven of the positions are vacant. During the program year ending July 30, 8,388 residents were enrolled in federal job training programs, according to the city's Community Development Department. Of those, 5,403 were placed in jobs and 1,836 continued their training into the current fiscal year.

When employers call the PIC offices with job openings, the positions are matched with the appropriate training and placement agencies, White said. These programs are reimbursed $4,100 for each client who lands a job. The unemployed people who contact the PIC are interviewed by White to verify that they are eligible for the federal program. Candidates must be U.S. citizens or legal aliens who reside in the city and meet federal guidelines to qualify as "economically disadvantaged." The criteria vary depending on whether the applicant is an unemployed mother, a laid-off worker or a senior citizen.

Until recently, the PIC referred as many as three job orders from employers and 20 out-of-work clients per month to the Transwestern Institute of Word Processing, said Jackie Gentry, the agency's job training coordinator. Transwestern, which received $660,575 in federal funds last year through the Private Industry Council, teaches word processing and computer programming to mostly single parents on welfare in South-Central Los Angeles.

Since the PIC ad campaign folded, the group has referred only one employer and two individuals to Transwestern, Gentry said.

Transwestern President Henry Feltenberg insisted that the PIC's troubles have not affected his program. Feltenberg was one of three job training administrators who called The Times last week to retract earlier statements by their managers that the programs had suffered some minor setbacks due to the drop in PIC referrals.

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