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Hope, help available for young job seekers : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
Hope, help available for young job seekers
Kendall-based agencies assist unemployed who have nowhere else to turn

by Matt Schury


David Korallus couldn't figure out what he was doing wrong.

He would land a job interview and feel like he was making a positive impression but never hear back from employers.

The 20 year-old was willing to work but had limited education and skills after moving from Wisconsin to the Kendall County area following the death of his father in a motorcycle accident.

"I wondered what I was doing wrong," I guess they found the next guy was a little bit better," Korallus said. "I was never the one for really good interviews so that could have been the problem."

That's where the Kendall Grundy Regional Office of Education gave Korallus a boost.

"I just walked in and I had these friendly faces greeting me," he said.

Mark Leigh, a caseworker at the Kendall/Grundy Regional Office of Education (ROE), was one of those friendly faces.

The ROE handles workforce investment programs and helps youth ages 16 to 21 who have barriers to employment.

"The youth have to come from low income households," Leigh said, adding that they also help homeless students and those with a disability.

"Probably half of the youth that come into our program don't have high school diplomas," Leigh said. "It's an interesting mix of people, many of them are academically deficient meaning they don't really perform at the ninth grade level in reading or math."

Korallus fit that profile when he enrolled in the youth employment program of the Grundy-Kendall Regional Office of Education in November 2012.

After his father's death, Korallus said, his mother sold the family's farm in Wisconsin and moved to Lake Holiday before coming to Kendall County. Korallus said he has moved around a lot since he was 16 years old but now feels like he is able to settle down and focus on his future with a job.

"Now it's all good, we're all settled in. I got something established here," he said.

Prior to enrollment in the youth employment program, Korallus was a part-time student at Waubonsee Community College but had never had a job.

Case managers arranged to have him interview at YMCAs for subsidized work experience. Korallus started working at the Oswego Family YMCA in March 2013 as a subsidized worker and mainly did janitorial work and assisted occasionally in the YMCA's programs. Leigh explained that at the end of his work experience in mid-June 2013, Korallus was hired to work at the Oswego Family YMCA.

In addition to helping qualified youth find jobs, the organization gives tutoring and instruction to students to help them earn their GED. Leigh said they also have funds to use for subsidized employment. He explained that subsidized workers are placed in job within the community and are supervised using grant funds from the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) to pay part of their wages.

Leigh estimates that 80 percent of the youth they help have dropped out of high school and are recommended by school counselors.

In order to get workforce help, Leigh says the youths have to qualify as low income and be interviewed by caseworkers who get to know them before they are enrolled.

"They have to take a math and reading test before we can enroll them," Leigh said. "That also gives us a chance to check out how reliable they are about making their appointment and if they do the things they say they're going to do."

The workforce grant the ROE receives is about $140,000 annually and specifies that they enroll 30 youth annually in the program.

Leigh said the help they provide gives kids the resources needed to get back on the right path.

"They have barriers to employment. Some of them have never had a job before, some don't have high school diplomas, some of the youth are lacking social skills," he said.

Unfortunately it is not that hard to find youth who fit the categories for help.

"We also have a lot of referrals from the youth in our program who refer their friends," Leigh said.

'Get people
through our program'

For an adult finding employment can be just as daunting. Dave Swistara was similarly in need of help. The 51-year-old Yorkville resident had been laid off from his job fixing highway solar panels for about nine months and knew he needed training and education to shift careers.

Lindsey Hutchins, case manager with the Kane County Department of Employment and Education (KCDEE), says they help people who have been laid off from low growth, declining job areas or who are long term unemployed.

"The goal is to get people through our program so that they can be employed quickly," she said.

Swistara is now an over-the-road truck driver and says his life is getting back on track.

He contacted the KCDEE, which serves Kendall County, and filled out paperwork. He was soon assigned Hutchins as his caseworker and had an interview with her. He said they talked about his past work history and the skills he has.

Swistara added that he knew that it was time to move on to another profession. He looked at his skills and, with the help of Hutchins and others at the KCDEE, he thought truck driving would be a good fit.

"It was a pretty smooth transition for him and he was able to find new employment pretty quickly," Hutchins said.

"I just decided to try this as an occupation and it was the quickest fit," he said.

He said that his previous job did not provide constant work.

"It's not a constant pay check, you need something steady and I didn't think that would fill the boot," he said.

One obstacle which Swistara says the KCDEE helped him overcome was getting the truck driving training he needed. He was able to obtain his commercial drivers license with financial help while he was still unemployed.

"If you're unemployed you can still collect your unemployment while you're still going to school," he said.

Swistara said the KCDEE helped him with the job search process and preparing for interviews and writing a resume.

"(Hutchins) helped me with my resume and thank you letters," Swistara said. "They're more than just giving you a check, they help you get prepared for an interview. I never did a resume in my life."

'A good stepping stone'

Korallus and Swistara were both assisted by programs that are funded with federal dollars controlled by the River Valley Workforce Investment Board (WIB). Each says the help they received gave them the extra push to find steady employment in an economy that is still in recovery mode.

The programs, funded by the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), assist adult and youth workers with job search assistance, resume development, job readiness assessments, employment referrals, career counseling and vocational occupational training.

The lead agency for many of these programs is the Kane County Department of Employment and Education and the Regional Office of Education.

WIA dollars help young people struggling to get a start and established workers who have been laid off and are trying to find work again. In addition to the ROE, WIA money also funds a program at the Kendall County Special Education Cooperative that helps youth prepare for jobs with job coaching. It also sets them up for job shadowing.

With several hundreds of thousands of federal dollars invested in Kendall County, where does the money go and who exactly is getting help?

Last month the River Valley Workforce Investment Board (WIB) announced plans to invest about $727,000 in federal grant dollars in Kendall County during its upcoming fiscal year to provide programs and services to help job seekers and employers connect in the county.

KCDEE one of the organizations funded by WIA that provides work force employment services. The group's website explains that, through WIA, they provide "the framework for a unique national workforce preparation and employment system designed to meet both the needs of the nation's businesses and the needs of job seekers and those who want to further their careers."

The central point of the programs, officials say, is to not just help the individual but also help businesses find skilled workers through training and education.

They encourage employers to fill jobs with subsidized workers who have their salaries offset by the funding and come recommended by the organizations and caseworkers who help them, Leigh says. For workers who lack the necessary skills to find a job, they can get those skills and move on to something more lucrative, Hutchins adds.

These federal programs help youth and the unemployed who have nowhere else to turn and nothing to fall back on, Leigh says. The caseworkers say their programs make the difference in filling in gaps for those with limited options but a great desire to succeed.

"It was a good stepping stone as far as the voucher and getting the position," Swistara said.

All these programs have an office presence in Kendall County and receive modest federal dollars. The KCDEE operates out of the Kendall County Health Department; the ROE is in the Historic Kendall County Courthouse as well as the Special Education Cooperative, both in Yorkville.

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