As the jobless rate rises, people like Gilbert Lujan are a saving grace
Gilbert Lujan goes to his job every day hoping to help those who have no job.
As supervisor of the Mesa County Workforce Center, the 26-year-old helps people prepare for job searches, oversees the center’s growing number of programs that help train people for work, and fills in anywhere else he’s needed.
“I even jump up front and cover reception sometimes,” he said.
Lujan knows what it’s like to be unemployed. After graduating from New Mexico State University, he spent three months looking for a job in the Las Cruces, N.M., area with no luck. In March 2006 he packed his belongings into his car and moved to Grand Junction. Although he grew up in the small town of Columbus, N.M., he was born in Grand Junction and thought he might have a better chance at employment in a new setting.
He did. One month after his arrival in western Colorado, Lujan secured a job as an employment specialist at the Mesa County Workforce Center. Although he moved up to an administrative post in June 2008, Lujan said he hasn’t forgotten his roots and still likes to meet with clients one-on-one.
A simple chat can lead to people realizing their hidden potential, he said, and they usually leave the workforce center feeling more confident. That makes a job that could depress some people rewarding for Lujan.
“I like it, because they come in worried, sometimes angry and frustrated, and you can help them. That’s a great feeling,” he said. “They may not leave happy, but sometimes they at least feel relieved.”
Lujan said he’s noticed more urgency in those worried people’s voices since late 2008. The workforce center posted as many as 450 job orders a day when Lujan started his job during boom times. But as early as August 2008 the numbers began to drop. At first, the decline was slight and workforce center employees were optimistic that it was just a fluke. But the job list kept shrinking. Eventually, the orders slipped into the double digits.
Things may be looking up at the workforce center, though. Job orders were up to 140 as of mid-February, and Lujan said warm weather usually correlates with job offer increases. It doesn’t hurt that Cabella’s, and hotel and grocery store projects will keep local construction workers busy this year and that some energy companies are hiring again, he said.
Regardless of where the trend goes, Lujan said his most common advice is to tell people to “take it day by day.” Being a workforce center supervisor is like coaching, he said, which is something he knows about first-hand. He coached fourth- and fifth-grade basketball after moving to Grand Junction. He’s taken this year off but plans to resume coaching next season.
Aside from getting some time on the court, Lujan said he likes to travel and volunteer with groups such as the United Way of Mesa County and Homeward Bound. He and his girlfriend are expecting their first child later this year.
Lujan said he’s not sure what the future will hold, but for now, he’s content with his position and plans to take his own most frequently offered advice
“Honestly, I don’t think I could’ve found a better job out of college,” he said. “Right now, it’s day by day and we’ll see what happens.”