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Next L.A. | Job Training in the '90s: Two Programs
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Hollywood Success Story

Agency founded after riots is a hit with the film industry, finding jobs for long-term unemployed.


John Wise, 26, swears he got his job at MGM without even going in for an interview.

No, Wise doesn't have a relative in the business. Rather, he registered with Spotlight on Jobs, a quasi-government agency placing the long-term unemployed or under-skilled in film industry jobs. Since its founding just after the 1992 riots, Spotlight has placed 220 applicants, said executive director Richard Katz.

More than 75% of Spotlight applicants are placed within six months in jobs averaging $10 an hour, Katz said. Half of the outplacements are still at their jobs half a year later, the maximum time the agency tracks them. Cost per outplacement: about $5,000, Katz said.

Spotlight's $300,000 annual budget is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor and the money is channeled through Los Angeles County. Ken Kessler, the county's employment and training director, calls the program "one of our greatest success stories; it's more than exceeded its goals."

Before Spotlight, said Kessler, "we hadn't made inroads into the entertainment industry. But entertainment is one of the expanding industries, and we needed access to those jobs. Spotlight has given it to us."

Before signing up with Spotlight, Wise had registered with several private employment agencies. There, he was sent out on assignments of three days or less.

The classified ads were no more helpful. "I'd [circle] all kinds of job openings, call in and get someone on the phone who said they were interviewing people," Wise said. "Then I'd never hear from them again."

Spotlight was different. Not only was Wise assigned a "caseworker who wouldn't quit," he attended a three-day seminar to designed to change the way applicants look at prospective jobs.

"A lot of applicants come to us distraught," said placement counselor Shirley Watson. Many are older employees "downsized" out of their jobs four or five yearsearlier; nearly all have run out of unemployment benefits. Most lack sufficient computer and office skills; some are not fluent in English.

"They're down on their self-esteem, sometimes living in shelters, and are often convinced that the world has ended," she said.

The first goal is to change the participants's attitudes toward themselves and the world, said seminar facilitator Ronald Kaufman. The key is to view the job search as part of a broader quest.

"Getting the job is not the ultimate goal; the job is just a means to an end. And the end is, how do I give meaning to what I'm doing? How do I maximize my value in life?" Kaufman said.


To help achieve this, Kaufman emphasizes language skills, urging participants to eliminate qualifying words. Thus, participants are taught that they do not have "more self-confidence" but just "self-confidence." They do not do "better" work; they do good work.

In addition, Kaufman says, if an applicant has been rejected, it's not because he or she wasn't good enough; it's because the job was not right for that person. Similarly, a "no" really means "not now." By altering their inner dialogues, the applicants change their view of themselves--and how others respond to them.

Seminar participants also evaluate their personal values such as creativity, integrity and learning skills. Once their values are in focus, they look to match them with the type of job they are seeking.

Finally, participants are put through a videotaped "job interview," in which they see themselves as would a prospective employer.

Six months after the seminar, Wise vividly remembers the lessons on body language. "If an interviewer leans forward on his desk, it may not be because he is interested in me; he may just be anxious." Under those circumstances, Wise said, "I should try to answer his questions as simply as possible. I learned not to tell him my life story, but to tailor my answers to the job I want."

Wise also learned to always keep an updated resume in a plain white envelope with cardboard backing. The tactic paid off. When MGM was hiring Christmas help, Wise's caseworker forwarded his resume, which he had retyped and restructured in the computer lab. Wise was hired, sight unseen, for a temporary mail room job.

Wise, however, treated his temporary assignment as an extended job interview. Using his seminar tools, he has proved himself "personable, well groomed and efficient," said Marilyn Bernstein, MGM's director of human resources.

Bernstein said she gives particular attention to Spotlight applicants such as Wise "because I've found they are usually well prepared. The job placement counselor carefully listens to our type of job openings and gets us a resume within 48 hours. These are usually on target."

In addition, she said, the riots have motivated the studios to make a greater outreach effort toward minority populations. Thus, the studios increasingly have coordinated their job openings with First AME Church, the Urban League, Spotlight on Jobs and similar organizations.

Jeffery Wallace, vice president of human resources at Sony Pictures, concurs that "not reaching out to everyone would limit our business capabilities. What we're after is blending our business decisions with things that uplift the community. Spotlight is one such program."

For Wise, "My goal is to go into special effects," he said. "Before this, getting a job like that was about as likely as catching a shooting star. But since I'm now working in the industry, I have a good chance. "Not a better chance," he says with a laugh. "A good chance."

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