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40,000 Voices

On any given day, 40,000 people in our region are unemployed or underemployed.

While these job seekers bring vast differences in education, skills and life experiences, many of these job seekers echo common obstacles and challenges in finding a job.

These are the voices from real job seekers in our community, the people struggling to connect to opportunity. These are the people we commit to help.

"Everyone wants to hire college graduates."

About 65 percent of the open jobs require a bachelor’s degree or higher. At the same time, more than half of these jobs pay less than $50,000 a year. More than 70 percent of the general population, and 75 percent of active job seekers have sub-baccalaureate credentials.

The degree requirement may not always be warranted by the type of job businesses are trying to fill. Rather, it serves as a sorting mechanism or a proxy for soft skills. This practice may lead to businesses overlooking capable people who have developed robust skills and professional expertise on-the-job rather than through academic programs.

"I have a (criminal) record. It's a little harder for me to obtain a career with these big companies that look into that fact. It often feels like a waste of time. I don't know who will hire me."

Six percent of active job seekers report having a criminal background. Navigating job opportunities can be especially challenging for them.

"There are a lot of jobs available but not a lot of careers. I went from having a career-type job to having this get-by job. I had some leads, but that fell apart on me. So once again, I'm like, 'what the heck am I going to do'?"

Nearly 40 percent of available jobs in the area pay less than $35,000, and these positions typically do not connect to advancement opportunities. Workers struggle financially short-term (unable to provide for their family) and long-term (unable to save for retirement and unexpected life issues).

"I lost my job and I came to see what type of programs can help me transition into a new career. I found this trade school where I could get new skills and an opportunity to start a new career. But I have not been back to school for years, so I don't know. It may be hard."

Given the rapid change of tools, business processes and technology, frequent upgrades of technical skills is a necessity for most people in the labor market. Only 24 percent of all local residents over the age of 35 find the motivation, courage or resources to go back to school.

"I am 51 years old, and I just think (employers) look at me like, 'why are you trying to change a job or career now?' What I was getting paid is also going to be a factor. At my age, I can't go to a minimum wage job."

Older workers make up more than 25 percent of the active workforce; however, many job seekers over 50 feel they are overlooked by hiring employers because they are perceived as overqualified or too expensive.

"The biggest challenge? Mainly just getting your application and resume looked at, to even get a call back. I have been putting out applications for a year straight and never got a call back."

In a world where most applications and resumes are read by automated systems, key words matter. Anyone who hasn't changed jobs for five years or more may have outdated job-seeking skills or be unaware of what it takes to get a resume through computer screening and into the hands of hiring managers.