Chesco launches program to get long-term unemployed back to work

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    Chester County is piloting a program called Platform-to-Employment, which will help 25 people who have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks – or about 6 months – break out of their jobless rut.

    Chester County commissioner Michelle Kichline is no stranger to long-term unemployment. Her dad spent two years out of work during the slowdown of the late 1970s.

    “You just look and you look and you look, and you can’t find anything,” said Kichline. “He ended up taking a job as a security guard just so there would be some money coming in.”

    Post-2008 recession, there are a lot of stories like this one. So Chester County is piloting a program called Platform-to-Employment (P2E), which will help 25 people who have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks – or about 6 months – break out of their jobless rut.

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    Long-term unemployment has increased since the Great Recession, and at its height made up over 40 percent of all unemployed people, according to researcher with the Urban Institute in Washington DC, Austin Nichols.

    Being unemployed for more than six months can take a toll on people’s health – and means they’ll probably make less money over the course of their lifetime.

    “The chances of getting back to work drop considerably” after 27 weeks, said Nichols. “It’s much harder to find work again and there are serious long-term consequences to earnings even if you do find work.”

    Platform-to-Employment is a program of The Workplace, a supported workforce center in Bridgeport, Connecticut. The Chester County Workforce Development Board applied for and received a national emergency grant from the US Department of Labor, tailored to placing long-term unemployed people back into the workforce. $175,000 of that grant will pay for the P2E pilot.

    While Chester County has relatively low unemployment – only about four percent – according to Kichline that does not include the long-term unemployed, which the county believes number in the thousands.

    In the program, participants start out in a five week “boot camp,” which includes career skills training and financial stability counseling. Part of the boot camp is also teaching participants to reframe their expectations of paid work.

    “It’s maybe telling people maybe you’ve always worked at these large scale companies but you need to tailor your expectations,” said Kichline.

    In addition to skills training, the program leans heavily on the county’s ability to network with employers to get participants job interviews. If those interviews are successful, P2E pays 100 percent of the hiree’s first four weeks of pay and 50 percent of weeks five to eight.

    According to Nichols, there isn’t very much data to support job support training programs. However, the idea of a program that helps not only with hard skills but also includes a mental health component is “promising.”

    Aside from outcomes like job placement, programs that help people with the emotional turmoil can help people’s wellbeing improve over time, said Nichols.

    Kickline said the The WorkPlace finish selecting applicants by the end of August. Residents of Chester County interested in the program can apply through

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