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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Job Centers Offer More Than Listings

Aid: CalWORKS' one-stop service at colleges is part of county's welfare-to-work effort, providing counseling as well as training.

May 10, 1999|JENNIFER HAMM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Martha Estrada is among the first wave of welfare recipients to take advantage of a new job center and training program at Ventura College.

The 47-year-old mother of three believed that she would never achieve her dream of becoming an accountant. But that changed after Estrada enrolled in an administrative assistant training class at the college as part of a new welfare-to-work program.

"It's brought my confidence back," Estrada said. "I just needed someone to give me a chance."

To give more people like Estrada a chance at realizing their dreams, community college officials are teaming up with welfare and employment agencies to establish one-stop career centers on campuses. The Ventura College facility opened in January, and another will open later this month at the Oxnard campus.

"The way out of poverty is education," said Kay Faulconer, who directs CalWORKS' new Job and Career Center at Ventura College. "And that's what we do. That's our specialty."

The two college centers are among seven countywide focusing on the welfare-to-work effort.

The more than 5,000 county residents on public assistance can visit one of the centers, where they can receive assistance from everyone from a nurse to a county prosecutor who seeks out deadbeat dads. They can also work on resumes, check job listings, practice interviewing skills and find out about child care services.

"What we've found is getting all these people in one place to serve clients has dramatic results," Faulconer said.

Since the center across the street from Ventura College opened, more than 1,500 job seekers have walked through its doors. Although the centers are open to anyone, most of the visitors are CalWORKS clients.

The centers offer classes with the intention of training and developing workers to fulfill the motto: "Get a Job. Get a Better Job. Get a Career."

Classes include administrative assisting and medical assisting, where students can learn practical job skills in a few months.

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Once they complete a class, students can use the centers' computers to search job databases or compose a resume. Visitors can even fax their resumes and set up job interviews.

Estrada plans to spend some time at the Ventura College center this week, looking up job listings and sending out resumes. She hopes to find an entry-level job in bookkeeping to begin working toward her goal.

"I'm working to give my children some hope," she said. "Things set you back in life. There's no income, and you have to turn to someone for a while. Some people get in a rut. These new programs help you to get out of that rut."

While the centers are open to the general public, they also house teams that serve CalWORKS clients, who are under a strict time limit to find jobs and get off cash assistance. A dozen agencies have representatives at each center, enabling welfare recipients to sort out a number of issues in one location.

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Under the old system, welfare recipients seeking assistance would be shuffled from one office or agency to another. Now, the CalWORKS teams work together to meet clients' needs.

Representatives from each department meet once or twice a week to discuss a client's problems and concerns in an effort to resolve them.

This is what officials envision for the Oxnard College site when it opens later this month. Three buildings on campus will compose the one-stop center.

With CalWORKS clients and other job seekers coming to a college campus for help, officials believe it may encourage them to further their education.

"The fact is, most traditional labor jobs did not require an education," said Larry Kennedy, Oxnard College's center director. "Now, if you're in a diaper factory, you're expected to run a computer."

College officials worry that some welfare recipients may be too intimidated to come onto campus. But having a job center there might encourage them to become students, ultimately improving their skills and marketability, they said.

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College administrators are determined to break the stereotype that college is only for certain people.

"They want to be role models for their families. They want to get out of the backbreaking labor and into the more skilled area," said Catherine Garnica, spokeswoman for Oxnard College.

Officials point to the success of the Job and Career Center in west Oxnard. That facility, which opened a year ago, serves more than 5,000 visitors a month.

In the lobby, job seekers can use the 12 computers to search the Internet for job listings or use the computerized resume program. A white board displays employers, including Federal Express, that will be visiting the center in the coming weeks for interviews.

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Making government services more user-friendly is the ultimate goal, said Kathy Smith, the center's director. Smith, who has worked in social services her entire adult life, believes that this new model may improve the work force and get people off welfare.

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