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Unemployed Test Work in New Job Fields

New Hampshire program allows workers to continue receiving jobless benefits during training

About 5.2 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, according to the US Department of Labor.
About 5.2 million Americans have been out of work for more than six months, according to the US Department of Labor.
Faiza Elmasry

More than 12 million Americans are out of work, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Looking for a job similar to the one that was lost can be a frustrating and futile exercise, but an employment program in the northeastern state of New Hampshire gives the unemployed a chance to try out jobs they hadn’t considered before.

Carol Nyber lost her job at an electronics manufacturing company last year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a new experience; she's been laid off several times over the past 20 years.

“I keep jumping back and forth. It’s a horrible thing to go through," she says. "You’re worried about your bills. Are you going to be able to pay your rent, or your mortgage if you own a house?”

While looking for a new job, Nyber came across the Return to Work initiative, a program run by New Hampshire’s Department of Employment Security.

“It allowed people to find a training opportunity with an employer,” says Keith Badger, the program’s coordinator. “They could train up to 24 hours a week with a particular employer for up to six weeks.”

Return to Work sets up a ‘win-win’ situation, according to Badger. Workers continue to receive unemployment benefits during the training period while prospective employers have a chance to evaluate potential employees - on the job - at no cost.

“The individual is not under any obligation to the employer. The employer is not under any obligation to the individual, outside of the actual training," he says. "So the employer doesn’t guarantee the individual a job at the end of the training period, and if the individual, in the middle of the training, decides that this is just not working for them, they can leave the training.”

Carol Nyber doesn’t plan to leave. In fact, she hoping for a job offer once she completes her training with Electropac, an electronics manufacturing company.

“I worked here about two-and-a-half years ago," she says. "It’s quite different. Last time, I was here as an inspector. Now I’m operating a machine.”

Electropac is one of more than 400 businesses around the state that have joined the Return to Work program. The chance to evaluate job seekers during the training period helps the company identify the best people for the job.

“In addition to the various skills and ability to do the job, we also look for the person who takes responsibility for the job that they're performing," says Raymond Boissoneau, president of Electropac. "It’s more than just a repetitive type job. The type of product we make requires somebody who looks at doing a function and the ability to - if they see something wrong - stopping it and bringing it to their team leader. So it requires that little added concern and care of what you’re doing.”

Lisa Eaton, who was laid off from a manufacturing marketing job more than a year ago, was hired by a real estate company after completing the on-the-job training.

“I felt it was a smooth transition," she says."I never felt that it was an unpleasant challenge. It’s a positive challenge to learn new skills in a new industry.”

She credits the Return to Work program with allowing her to change careers.

“I was not satisfied in the role that I had with my prior employer," Eaton says. "I had been thinking about finding another job for a long time and I just never got around to it. You know how you kind of live with dissatisfaction. So it was a good, and probably needed, push to find something better suited to me and my personality and what I enjoy.”

Her boss, Giovanni Verani, president and co-owner of Prudential Verani Realty, wasn't concerned about hiring someone with no previous experience in his field.

“She had to get a real estate license, first of all. She did everything she needed to do to get a license," Verani says. "She was like a sponge when she first came in. She absorbed the industry. She came up to speed really quickly and I think the customers love her.”

New Hampshire’s Return to Work initiative was inspired by a similar program in the southern state of Georgia, which also provided the model for President Obama’s “Bridge to Work” proposal for helping the long-term unemployed.

More than 500 people have been trained through New Hampshire’s Return to Work program over the past two years, and more than 350 of them now have permanent full-time jobs. As more employers join the initiative, program coordinator Keith Badger expects more unemployed workers to return to work.

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