Chester office of SC Works still open for business

If there were any questions whether the Chester office of SC Works was still open, Wednesday’s activities at the Wilson Street Ext. office answered them. The parking lot was full, as was the lobby, filled with eager job seekers who were there for dual job fairs, sponsored by Boral Stone Products and ADECCO, a staffing firm. Incidentally, the SC Works office was also holding an open house.
The open house was by way of an announcement that yes, the SC Works office was open and still had some services for job seekers. Rumors of their demise were entirely premature, but were due to the fact that SC Works no longer provides counseling for unemployment insurance issues, said Sharon Blackburn, project director for the Catawba Region of SC Works, which encompasses Chester, Lancaster and Rock Hill.
Just as in most industries and businesses, more and more of what SC Works does has a digital component. Blackburn points to the SC Works website as a prime place for information.
“There are postings on there for all over the state. You can go in that system and look for any job that a company has posted with us throughout the state. And in the Rock Hill area, we have companies in Charlotte that are posting jobs with us,” she said.
“There are thousands of jobs in there. And the jobs range from entry level all the way up to management level jobs. We work really hard with the businesses to encourage them to submit their job openings to the website.
“There has really been such a change during this recession of how employers screen applicants. Everything is computerized, and applicants have to apply online. Some of our job seekers have difficulty submitting their resumes and applying online. What we want them to know is we’re here to help them do that; we’re here to help them navigate the system and we’re here to help them apply for the positions and get them ready to interview,” she said.
This digital news may be disheartening to some who don’t have access to a computer or tablet, but SC Works has that covered.
“We have a computer lab here in our office with nine to 10 computers. We have about another 12 or so. We have plenty of computers. People can also access the website at any of the public libraries in the county,” Blackburn said.
She addressed the rumors floating about that the office had been closed. The rumors started because SC Works no longer handles unemployment insurance counseling—all of that is now online, and that was a large part of what the clients were coming into the office for. When that function stopped, people thought all the functions of SC Works had stopped.
“The unemployment functions are all online. We do have information about it and we can give people limited assistance. We don’t have access to the program, so we can’t go in and look at their account or address their particular issues.”
But the office is far from closed.
“We have workshops going four days a week in Chester. Those are on a wide range of job-seeking topics. If you’ve been out of the job market for a long time, you might need a little refresher course on what questions might be asked in an interview, or what should my resume look like, because employers want to look at a different type of resume than they did six years ago. We get you ready,” Blackburn said.
“We want to get the word out that we are open, and we are providing re-employment services for the citizens of Chester County.”
There are also opportunities for training. If a client is certified as eligible under the WIA (Workforce Investment Act,) there are funds to send them to school for short courses or continuing education courses. There are also funds to pay a childcare stipend and transportation stipend while the student is in school.
SC Works will also coordinate with the Chester County Connector bus service to enable clients to get to job fairs or hiring events.
The open house was also to share some good news for potential job seekers. The November 2013 unemployment rate was 9.4 percent, said Keith Deloatch, SC Works Center Operations Manager.
“Compare that to November of 2012, we were at 12.5 percent unemployment, so it has dropped significantly.”
There are a variety of causes for this drop, including people who are no longer looking for employment, but “we’re seeing an uptick in the numbers of companies that are looking for people,” said Blackburn.
There are more opportunities than ever for prospective job seekers, including starting out with a temp agency in a job that can lead to a more permanent position, said Blackburn.
“Years ago, people didn’t want to go with a temp agency, but in today’s market, that’s how employers are testing the waters, by bringing on temporary employees. A lot of times, these are temp-to-permanent jobs, temporary for 90 days and then leading to something permanent. I would encourage people looking for jobs to not discount a job with these temp agencies. It’s a way to get your foot in the door, and prove what you can do for the company.”
Overall, said Deloatch, job seekers who come in the doors of the Chester office are eager to get back to work. They have come to terms, he said, with the needs for re-training or getting up to speed with today’s technology. And SC Works is open for business to help them with that.

By Brian Garner, Staff Reporter with The News & Reporter