The Mesa County Workforce Center makes the same plea to every person who walks into its building seeking employment assistance: Use available resources to seek additional job training and education, because those resources are out there, often at low or no cost.

“We think enhancing those transferable skills between jobs is the most important thing people can do,” said David Porfirio, manager of business services at the Workforce Center.

Unemployment in Mesa County is climbing. The latest seasonally adjusted figures released Wednesday show unemployment climbed from 4.7 percent for December 2008 to 5.5 percent for January, and the picture gets more grim when considering those figures do not reflect sweeping layoffs at Halliburton and Hirschfeld Industries, formerly Grand Junction Steel, in March.

Most people don’t know how “broad the menu is” in terms of available training and education, Porfirio said, but the center offers courses such as English as a second language, GED preparation and Occupational Safety and Health Administration safety training, as well as 40 computer software courses that are free to eligible students.

The most important class the center offers by far is certified nurse’s aide training, he said. The class is offered through four community partners, the Area Health Education Center, the Delta and Montrose technical career centers and Western Colorado Community College.

The center and WCCC have a strong relationship, Porfirio said, and the center can offer tuition assistance to eligible students for most of the community college’s programs, such as a new maintenance-repair-operations course for household and commercial operations.

Eligibility varies by person, Porfirio said, but income is not a factor. Most tuition assistance is up to $1,000 a semester, which is enough to cover all expenses in a CNA program, said Jessica Marler, who works in professional services at the center.

Health care is one of the few sectors that have not slowed in hiring, she said, and WCCC has added another class in the certified nursing assistant program, starting at the end of April.

Most of the people visiting the Workforce Center are seeking assistance filing claims for unemployment insurance, Marler said, but they still can obtain unemployment benefits while in training and education programs.

“Once they get over that hurdle of applying for unemployment, most express interest in seeking some sort of training,” Marler said. “You know, while you’re waiting for another job, you might as well get training while you wait.”

The Workforce Center has representatives on the Western Colorado Community College joint advisory committee, said Lynn Woellhof, interim director of the community college.

It will be through the Workforce Center that the school hopes to woo back those students who were lured into once-booming industries such as energy and are now unemployed.

“When times were good, they were calling us saying, ‘We need employees to fill this job,’ ” she said. “Now it’s, ‘We need a place for these employees.’ ”

Every program at WCCC has an industry-based advisory board, Woellhof said. Those relationships allow the school to tailor curriculum to the jobs available, she said.

“It will be with those people that we get through this recession,” Woellhof said. “It’s like, ‘OK, we just hit a brick wall, folks. Let’s regroup and go from here.’ ”

To some degree, the center can help every person who walks through the door, Porfirio said, but competition for those resources may get stiffer.

At times at the Workforce Center, computer labs are full with lines of people two or three deep at each station.

Whereas caseworkers working with Workforce Investment Act funds may handle a case- load of 20 to 30 students in better times, they are now handling more than 50 at a time, Marler said.

“We are breaking records every day,” she said.

Through 2008, the average ratio of applications to job postings was 18 to 1. Porfirio said that was a 50 percent increase over 2007, when the ratio was 12 to 1.

Since January, Porfirio said, that ratio has skyrocketed to 44 applications to every one job posting.

As of Tuesday, there were about 6,400 job seekers for 110 job postings, or about 58 to 1.

Internships also are becoming a more common avenue for the center to place job seekers, Porfirio said. Many employers are struggling and can’t afford to hire more employees but still need extra help, Porfirio said.

The center is creating internship positions with those employers and will pay the employee prevailing wages through its grant money, he said.

The more common sectors where the center is pursuing internships are clerical office work, maintenance and construction. The internships tend to last 12 weeks to 16 weeks, Porfirio said.


Make sure it’s done right, said Gilbert Lujan, supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center.
The unemployment office in Denver has been overloaded, and applicants have waited on hold up to four hours to speak with a representative, Lujan said.
There are two televisions at the Workforce Center that play a DVD that outlines the process to apply for unemployment insurance.
Lujan said applicants need to “make sure they are aware of the process, and follow it step by step.”
If the process is not followed correctly, applicants must follow up with the office by phone and risk a long hold time.


•  Computers for writing resumes and searching for jobs in Colorado.

•  Phone bank to call unemployment office and potential employers.

•  Printer.

•  Fax machine.

•  Resume printing machine.

•  Workshops for people with criminal records.

•  Resume writing and interview techniques workshop, lasting four hours.


Jessica Marler with professional services at the Mesa County Workforce Center said the center offers a course in basic transferable job skills. Students who successfully complete the course are presented a certificate of completion, Marler said. The center is educating employers around the county about the importance of job applicants having that certificate as proof of having those skills.

Basic jobs skills include:

•  Finding information quickly on a form.

•  Communicating effectively, orally and through writing, and listening attentively.

•  Punctuality, including the ever-important showing up to work on time.

•  Computer literacy and, at the very least, being comfortable with a keyboard.

 • Basic math skills and applying addition, subtraction, multiplication and division to common workplace problems, such as calculating fractions and interest.

•  Reading comprehension for understanding assigned tasks and analyzing information.


Tuition assistance the Mesa County Workforce Center is able to provide comes largely from funds under the Workforce Investment Act, David Porfirio said, but that money has dried up. Congress cut funding for the act early in 2008, he said, but the Workforce Center expects the lost funds to be replenished with federal stimulus dollars, which should be in the bank by late April or early May.
The Workforce Center is using money from other grants it has received until the Workforce Investment Act dollars are replaced.
“That just goes to show you how ignorant and blind they were at that time,” Porfirio said of the recision in funds by Congress.


• The Mesa County Workforce Center has readiness workshops and a resource room to assist job seekers in resume preparation.

•  The Mesa County Partners Program has an eight-hour life skills class for youth who are referred to the program through the juvenile courts system or the Department of Human Services. It includes resume preparation and filling out job applications.

•  Several career-services and temporary-worker agencies in the area offer resume and career counseling, but some require job seekers to register with their company or pay for their services.


According to the Mesa State College advising and career services office, resumes:

• Should be proofread by at least one other person.

• Should be tailored to the position applied for.

• Should be typed in 10- or 12-point font and printed on high-quality paper.

• Should not be written in complete sentences but in bulleted items that begin with action words.

• Should not include personal information such as age and marital status.

• Should not be written in first person.

• Should not include references. Those should be on a separate page.

• Should not include salary information unless requested.


The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act gives workers in certain situations, whether losing jobs voluntarily or involuntarily, the option to maintain their health insurance coverage after their employment has ended.
Generally, the employer must have employed 20 workers or more, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, and the worker would need to cover up to 102 percent of the health insurance premium.
Workers can elect to continue health insurance coverage for up to 18 months and have 60 days after employment has ended to enroll.


Hilltop Child and Family Center offers Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus insurance coverage for children and pregnant women. Coverage is dependent on income and household size, but Hilltop is the only presumptive eligibility organization in Mesa County. Hilltop will issue temporary insurance cards to applicants who need immediate care while their applications are being processed.


Western Colorado 211 offers prescription drug discount cards to every Mesa County resident who wants one. The average savings is 20 percent and can be used on all prescriptions that aren’t covered by a cardholder’s insurance. The uninsured and underinsured can use these cards, and there are no applications or membership fees for the discount card.

The cards can be picked up at:

•  Mesa County Health Department, 510 29 1/2 Road.

•  Mesa County Clerk & Recorder motor vehicle branches.

•  Sheriff’s Department records counter, 215 Rice St.

•  Mesa Mall, 2424 U.S. Highway 6&50.

•  Old county courthouse, 544 Rood Ave.

•  Fruita Civic Center, 325 E. Aspen Ave.

•  Mesa County Workforce Center, 2896 North Ave.

•  Department of Human Services, 510 29 1/2 Road.

•  Development Services Building, 750 Main St.


These free workshops are available to employers laying off workers. A Mesa County Workforce Center representative will come to the workplace and speak with recently laid-off workers about services the Workforce Center offers and the application process for unemployment benefits.


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