One stop works for residents

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 31, 2004

By SUE ELLEN ROSS – Staff Reporter

RESERVE – Harold Jackson was already working full-time when he came to the St. John One Stop Career Center in 2002. But he wasn’t happy with his position. “I was looking for a better job opportunity,” said the Reserve resident. “The staff worked with me and sent me to Coastal Truck Driving School in Hammond.”

Jackson, 32, now drives a truck for St. John Parish, and is proud to be considered a success story.

“They have a wonderful program here. I appreciate that the government provided for this. It gave me an opportunity I wouldn’t otherwise have,” he said.

He added that there was no cost to him, but he had to make the commitment to attending and completing his truck driving classes.

The career center specializes in employment and training programs. Professionals use a variety of strategies in providing appropriate services to meet the needs of employers and job seekers.

Not everyone who comes to the job center is looking for a job. They may already have one, but looking to improve their skills or make a job change in the future.

John S. Wood is the St. John Parish coordinator of the career center, which works under the River Parishes Workforce Investment Act (WIA.) This Act was developed in 1998, and is a Tri-Parish effort.

Predecessors of the WIA were CETA (Comprehensive Employment Training Act) developed in 1973; and JTPA (Job Training Partnership Act) in 1982.

The St. John One Stop Career Center in Reserve is one arm of a three-part consortium, partnering with St. James Parish and St. Charles Parish.

Wood and his counterparts from these parishes meet every other month with Program Director Marian Doyal; Board

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Director Sharon Simpkins; and the Board of Directors. Strategic planning and setting policies are among the topics discussed at these meetings.

The career center employs five staff members in addition to Wood: Pam Comminie, instructor; Bobbie Rose, resource specialist; Abbie Cooper, adult and dislocated worker case manager; Debbie Pocche, adult and displaced worker case manager, who is housed at the technical college on Airline Highway in Reserve; and Elaine Victor, who serves as the youth case manager.

In addition, a new position has been created to assist all three parishes in marketing their career centers. “This job developer will act as a liaison between participants and area businesses and organizations,” said Wood

The career center also provides employer services. Among these are applicant screening and labor market information.

“We can serve as an extension of their Human Resources Department,” said Wood.

The youth area of the center includes a year-round program that focuses on basic skills assessment, guidance and resources to reach educational goals; development of leadership, training that will expose them to the work environment; adult mentors, summer employment and tutoring.

For the job seeker, employment related workshops, career exploration and career counseling are among the services offered.

In addition to developing practical and technical skills for on-the-job success, additional guidance and one-on-one support with trained case managers is also available.

For those coming through the doors of the career center, there awaits many options – including services designed to increase a person’s ability to explore the labor market and conduct a job search.

These include initial assessment, resume design, and mock interviews, among other options.

The staff of the St. John One Stop Career Center has also worked in tandem with local businesses, such as the new Home Depot in LaPlace.

A unique information workshop was developed last fall in conjunction with the Economic Development Department of St. John. The two-day event was held on the East Bank (at East St. John High School); and on the West Bank, at the fire station.

Approximately 1,000 people attended over the two-day period at both locations. “Our part was employability skills training,” said Wood.

In addition to the career center’s staff, Home Depot representatives were also on hand. “We anticipated a lot of people but didn’t expect that many,” Woods said of the large turnout.

Many future success stories, generated from the career center, are in the making.

Program participant Faith Rasmussem is focusing on a career in drafting. She is in her second semester of classes. The student is very excited about starting in a new direction mid-life.

“This program is allowing a 42-year-old mom to go to college and do something she always wanted to do,” she said. “I am very grateful.”

Plans are currently underway to develop a program with The St. John Correctional Facility, according to Wood. This program will help inmates prepare for re-entry into the workplace by utilizing employability skills training.

Wood enjoys his position at the St. John One Stop Career Center, and observes the benefits on a continual basis. “I recognize the impact of our programs on people’s lives,” he said. “Being able to bring genuine hope and opportunity to them is very rewarding.”

Comments from the community, regarding the services at the career center, have been very positive. “They are glad that there is a program that addresses the needs of people looking for employment assistance,” said Wood.