Work & Purpose

One Jobs Program That Really Works

A Connecticut unemployment office found a way to get the long-term jobless hired. Is it time to take this idea national?

Can anything be done to help the long-term unemployed — especially those over 50 — get back in the workforce?

Joe Carbone may have the answer.

Carbone runs the inspiring Platform to Employment program in a southwestern Connecticut unemployment office known as The WorkPlace. Maybe you saw it featured on 60 Minutes last Sunday night.

The 60 Minutes segment struck such a nerve, Carbone tells me, that his office’s phone system shut down after being swamped by calls from Congress, Chambers of Commerce and out-of-work Americans. “We’re going to get it fixed,” Carbone says. “It’s a good sign.”

Why the rush to speak to Carbone? “Everybody knows somebody who’s been out of work a long time and can’t seem to get back in," he says. "Something structural has happened. The economy has changed. When I came here 15 years ago, long-term unemployment was 39 weeks.” He estimates that 4 million people will have been out of work for 99 weeks or longer by the end of this year.

True, Congress and President Barack Obama just worked out a deal to keep the maximum duration of unemployment benefits at 99 weeks through May, before reducing it to 79 weeks in most places this summer. They also agreed to let states use unemployment insurance money for programs to help get the jobless back to work.

That’s where Carbone comes in. His program first gives jobless people five weeks of training — “to restore their self-confidence" — freshening up their interviewing and tech skills as well as offering ways to manage stress. Then it places them as interns for eight weeks at local employers, such as a power-system manufacturer and a fast-food operator. The state foots the bill for the internships. “We give the employers a chance to see if these people would work out as well as anyone else,” Carbone says.

When the internships end, the employers decide whether to offer the interns paid positions — and often they do. In the 60 Minutes segment, 53 of the 100 people who had enrolled in Carbone’s program received job offers.

Could Platform to Employment be copied nationally?

“It’s something that I think can be replicated very, very easily,” Carbone says. “It might cost more money,” he says. “But isn’t it better to pay for it and give people a chance to live a better life?”

Carbone has three tips for people who’ve been out of work for months or years:

Get on somebody’s payroll, any payroll. Many employers weed out applicants by eliminating those who are unemployed, says Carbone. “You have an infinitely better chance of getting hired if you’re employed already.” And don’t snub a job because it lacks the status of your previous position. “Forget what you were paid before you lost your job and your former title,” Carbone says.

Pick up skills that will make you more employable. This could mean going back to school for training or getting tutored in the latest technology for your line of work.

Volunteer at a local nonprofit. “Volunteering has the capacity to make you feel good and raise your confidence,” Carbone says. “It might also open up opportunities to meet other volunteers who could be potential employers.”

RIchard Eisenberg, editor at Next Avenue wearing a suit jacket in front of a teal background.
By Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Follow him on Twitter.

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