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The new minority: Millions of long-term unemployed looking for hope

Published: Monday, July 30 2012 9:53 p.m. MDT

Carbone' plan was the development of a research project named "Platform to Employment" or "P2E" for short. He wanted to try "some extraordinarily different things" along with education and psychological support that addressed the standard needs of the long-term unemployed.

Career Team, a for-profit training provider, worked on the skills portion of the plan teaching five weeks of classes on how to use tools and services — such as networking. This helped the unemployed get up-to-date on how to search for a job.

The emotional part of the problem was helped by Behavioral Health Group, a for-profit company that provides employee assistance programs such as social services to deal with depression, family problems, substance abuse — anything that inhibits people from being successful in the workforce.

Carbone said the five-week program is intensive and challenging. "But there is no question that it worked," he said. "After five weeks in this program, these people were ready for job search."

But the truly innovative way the program works is in how the long-term unemployed actually get a chance.

THE OFFER THEY COULDN'T REFUSE

Carbone and his staff looked carefully at jobs openings in the region and tried to match program participants like O'Neill with trusted employers.

Then came that offer the potential employers couldn't ignore. P2E would pay the candidate's salary.

The employers were told P2E didn't just have a good job candidate, but that because they had a staffing entity in house, the potential employer did not have to hire the person outright. Instead, the employer could use the person for eight weeks — like a free intern. Four of those weeks, P2E would pay the entire salary. After four weeks, the employer would have to contribute up to 50 percent of the salary.

"What I'm really asking you to do," Carbone would tell them, "is to be fair, and honest with me. If you get to a point after eight weeks, or at any point, and they've done the job to your satisfaction, that you will hire them. But it is also a contract that you can break after one day. If they don't work out, and you don't want them, fine. No hard feelings."

What makes this different from government assistance programs such as those for the disabled and veterans is the employer is not required to make a hire to get the assistance. And private donors such as AARP, AT&T, several banks and foundations fund the program — so businesses don't have to be afraid of government regulations and control.

"It's an offer to business that they almost can't refuse," Carbone said. "It's totally free of risk."

And it works.

Out of 91 people who went through the program, so far, 66 were able to take the trial jobs. Of those 66, 61 have been hired full-time and one is still in the trial period. O'Neill the accountant was one of the first group of 20 people in the program. "I was skeptical," he said. "Nobody had ever gotten me a job before. I was always able to get my own positions. ... I'm thinking, 'If I can't get myself a job, why do I think these people can?'"

The program gave O'Neill his confidence back. He no longer felt alone.

All 61 who were hired are earning less than they did two or three years ago. "But they are no longer unemployed," Carbone said. "And they can begin the process to restructure their career and life from the standpoint of being employed."

NATIONAL HOPE

Carbone hopes the word will continue to spread about the program — and is excited about the publicity "60 Minutes" gave to it. Already he is seeing the potential transformation of his regional effort in Connecticut, with the help of some major foundations, into a national project in ten different metropolitan areas.

But for those people who do not have the program in their area — such as tenZeldam and her husband in California — Carbone said they should not give up hope.

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