When 37-year-old Kauwela Pearson lost her job during the pandemic, it was “devastating.” The formerly active-duty military member had three kids, and she had never not worked.
“And so to be in that position, on top of the pandemic was … I don’t even think I can find a word,” she said. “It was more than overwhelming. It kind of felt like my world was coming down all around me.”
Pearson received free one-on-one help with researching jobs, updating her resume and translating her skills to the workforce from the Department of Workforce Services’ Career and Education Program.
[See the list below of the department’s services and who qualifies.]
She recently accepted a position as a technical writer with Northrup Grumman, a “fantastic” job that she loves and that came with an additional $15,000 a year, above what she was making in her old position. And she credits the department with helping her get there.
“Nobody knows; I could have gotten the job without it,” she said. “But the timeframe and the type of job, I definitely don’t think that would have been without my counselor’s help.”
At 2.9%, Utah’s unemployment rate is among the lowest in the country, and virtually unchanged from the 2.7% rate the state reported before the pandemic began.
But recognizing that many people are still struggling — and as Utah plans to stop providing an extra $300 a week to its unemployed residents, ending its participation in the federal program that funds that boost next month — the state’s Department of Workforce Services is working to help people find new jobs.
The department launched a new campaign Monday to tell job seekers about its services, along with a revamped website where it says it will be easier for people to apply for assistance.
“We are committed to help to build a stronger workforce in Utah and help people get connected not only to just a starting-level of job, but connect to a long-term career pathway,” said Lindsay Cropper, Career and Education Program manager.
Pearson said it was scary to walk in the door, but she encouraged other people who might be looking for a new position to take the leap.
“The first step is just to take a step in the door, to not be afraid,” she said. “I mean, there’s more resources here than I could count on my hands and toes. If people really want work and they want to find a job and not just something temporary, this would be a great place to go.”
The Salt Lake Tribune asked Cropper about what services are available and how the program works. The discussion has been edited for clarity and length. More information is available at jobs.utah.gov/career.
How can the Career and Education Program help me?
The program can assist Utahns in:
Getting a job, finding a better job in a career track, or rejoining the workforce.
Getting a high school diploma or GED.
Earning a college degree.
Getting an occupational license.
Finding work experience opportunities.
Securing an apprenticeship.
Who is eligible?
The program is free, and services are open to everyone, Cropper said. All Utahns can use the program’s career counseling services and get individual coaching, as well as help finding a job, preparing their resume, practicing interviewing skills and networking.
In order to qualify for financial assistance to help pay for an educational or training program, there are some requirements. You have to be in one of these categories:
Have been laid off from a job, or;
Have a qualifying household income, or;
Be between the ages of 14 and 24 and are struggling to find employment, start or finish school, or having trouble at school or work, or;
Or have been in foster care and are between the ages of 16 and 26.
The scale used to determine qualifying household income is “pretty low,” Cropper said.
“For example, a household of three, we would look at their household income for six months, and they would have to make, gross, less than about $13,000,” she said.
People already receiving other public assistance, such as food stamps or Medicaid, are automatically eligible for the Career and Education Program.
How do I get started?
People can apply online at jobs.utah.gov/jobseeker/career/apply. You will have to create a Utah ID account, if you don’t have one already. People are asked for their basic contact information, about their work history and if they receive any public assistance benefits.
You can also apply in person by visiting any of the department’s 30 Employment Centers across the state. A map with locations is available at jobs.utah.gov/jsp/officesearch.
Is there a wait list?
After submitting your application, you will be contacted within three business days to schedule an appointment with a career counselor. The counselor will tell you what other documentation you need to submit, which you will have 45 days to provide.
Once enrolled, you will meet with your counselor to figure out the best programs for you and determine “what support you really need,” Cropper said.
I need help getting more training and education. What’s available?
The Career and Education Program can help you earn your high school diploma, GED certificate, college degree or occupational license or certification
A counselor will help decide what program is best for you, based on how many credits you already have, your location and what you can afford, and they will also help you fill out an application for financial aid.
If a person qualifies for a Pell Grant, “we have them use that first,” Cropper said, “and then we would pay the remaining cost after that.”
“We usually will pay up to about $8,000 per individual,” Cropper said, but that can fluctuate depending on costs and needs.
The Career and Education Program can help pay for tuition, books, supplies or tools for a mechanic program. The staff also offers support to help you finish your training, such as tutoring and mentoring.
Utahns can search and compare programs, degrees and schools at jobs.utah.gov/jsp/utjobs/seeker/provider-compare. The site lists what prerequisites are required, the cost of a program, how long it will take to complete, and whether it’s offered in-person or virtually.
The programs included in the search have been vetted, Cropper said.
Can I get on-the-job training?
“On-the-job training is really focused on individuals who may have little experience or no experience in a certain field,” Cropper said.
Through the Career and Education Program, an employer will hire you, and Workforce Services helps pay some of the upfront training costs and your wages for the first six months, with the goal of this becoming a permanent job, she said.
For example, a person may have just finished their dental assistant certificate and is looking for some experience. A workforce development specialist will reach out to employers in that field and help you get hired.
The specialists generally use the state job board to find employers, according to Cropper.
How can I get an apprenticeship?
Depending on the program and the industry, people participating in an apprenticeship program may spend a few days a week in a classroom, and the other days doing on-the-job training.
During this training, you are hired by an employer, with the goal of staying in that position when you finish the required hours, Cropper said.
People can search through a list of available apprenticeships at jobs.utah.gov/jsp/utjobs/seeker/ra.
“We’re expanding apprenticeships in Utah into information technology, which is wonderful, and hopefully some other industries pretty soon, as well,” Cropper said.
What about job seekers who don’t speak English?
At the bottom of the Career and Education Program website, you can choose your language through Google Translate. Language services are also available in-person at Employment Centers, and some counselors speak Spanish, Cropper said.
How likely am I to get a job?
The Career and Education Program serves roughly 7,000 people a year, according to Cropper.
“We have about an 80% rate of obtaining employment,” she said, and about 75% of those who go to school earn their credential.
Cropper said the department has seen a lot of success in the medical office, web specialist, information technology, construction, health care and auto mechanic fields.
“Our goal is to get [people] started … or take that next step on their career pathway and help them to be more self-sustaining and up-skill their resume and increase their opportunities,” she said.
What are some of the top jobs that are hiring in Utah right now?
You can see the most in-demand jobs in different industries at jobs.utah.gov/docs/hotjobs.html.
“Our hot jobs right now,” Cropper said, are in construction, cyber security, software development, manufacturing and pharmacy.
I am an employer. Can the program help me hire people?
Yes. You can learn how to connect with a workforce development specialist at jobs.utah.gov/employer/localteams.html.