Career Center popular with Oakland’s unemployed
on June 6, 2009
Across the street from the City Center where professionals work purposefully on laptops and Blackberries, a different scramble unfolds inside the Old Oakland Bank building.
There, a portion of Alameda County’s 80,100 who are unemployed—10.3 percent, in April compared to 5 percent at the same time last year—shuffle through literature on how to sharpen resumes and and interviewing skills.
Marylyn De Ford, an administrative specialist at the Oakland Career Center says the center’s numbers jumped to 6,000 a month from 4,000 a month ago.
“I’ve been working here almost 13 years,” says De Ford. “When I first came on board, Alameda had layoffs, Oakland army based closed, hospitals also closed. We even had people coming in from Travis.”
But this too is bad.
Three Rows of old Dell computers and plenty of wooden desks make up the center.
Around the tables there’s information, clues and tips on how to find a job.
“We have stuff all over the place,” sayd De Ford, referring to job applications they help promote. “It’s on the tables, all over the rounders, just a wealth of information we provide that people can just grab free of charge.”
“Do I Look Job Ready?” is one of the many posters that advise applicants on the do’s and don’ts for a job interview: “No baggy pants or athletic clothing,” one poster advises.
Throughout the day, many come in and – without so much as reading, begin to go down the tables and walls to pick up copies of currently open positions.
For every opening, De Ford says, there are probably 100 people who pick up the listing.
After Edward Rucker graduated from Hampton University in Virginia in sports management, he returned home to Oakland and he’s been looking for a job for eight months. He’s trying to get a job in media.
“Ever since I was young I’ve been interested in writing and making movies, working with cameras and radio. I came back to pursue that.”
Rucker isn’t giving up on his dream job but he also realizes the reality of the market. “I put in applications but people keep telling me there’s a hiring freeze,” says Rucker.
“I’ve been applying to everything from Walgreens to banks. I’m looking at anything I’m remotely qualified for.”
Two Navy recruiters come by to Rucker to ask if he’s interested. After exchanging information, the recruiters, in uniform, walk around the center to talk to more people.
Janitorial. Security. Health Care. Antoine Vaden goes down the list of jobs he is qualified for as if he’s reading off a grocery list. Most recently he worked at Goodwill in Oakland but has recently been let go.
“Everything is so high tech,” says Vaden, on the difficulties of applying for jobs online. “These computers are taking over. I couldn’t predict the future. Computers. It snuck up on me.”
Vaden is taking a computer course at the Oakland Career Center and believes the obstacle is more mental than physical. “Mind over matter,” says Vaden about computer illiteracy. “My mom always reminds me I just lost my confidence.”
Not everyone who comes to the Career Center is looking for a job.
Vicky Seymore got a job through the center six years ago, but now the 66-year old Oakland resident is coming in for computer class.
“It gives me something to do,” says the grandmother. “They got all this new technology, I’m just updating my skills. I’m upgrading.”
Christopher Land is currently homeless and staying with friends in Oakland. But if his plan to start his own business flies, that will soon change.
A former tech support employee for an online advertising company, things have gone offline for Land since then. “It’s been insane,” says Land.
“Nobody wants to hire an online advertising person. You get pigeonholed.”
Like many others without options, Land is at a disadvantage. “I don’t have a car and I don’t have any money. I’m taking the bus to most places. It doesn’t work out too well if I have to go to Palo Alto for an interview,” says Land who interviewed for Google but didn’t get hired.
Many users come and stop to examine the Polaroids posted on the wall that show successful applicants. The auditors, Safeway cashiers, drivers stare back at them, holding a Payday chocolate bar as evidence of their success.
“It’s been awesome to take the photos and get their information about what kind of job they’re going to do,” says De Ford. “We show people the wall and tell them it’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
“It gives them a sense of hope,” says De Ford.
Lead image: Many users of the Carer Center stop by and admire the success stories on the wall.
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