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CareerSource Southwest Florida reopens

By Staff | Jun 3, 2020

CareerSource Southwest Florida reopened its career centers Monday and, by appointment, is again helping individuals search for jobs.

“Even though we have closed our career centers due to COVID-19, it is time to reopen them,” Executive Director Joe Paterno said in a prepared statement. “We didn’t close down completely, we still provided our services via our website, over the phone and by virtual meeting. In order to meet the needs of our community, we decided to reopen preferably by appointments following strict guidelines from the CDC. The reopening will be done in a safe manner as priority for our staff and clients.”

Although CareerSource physically closed its centers the first part of April, staff continued to assist people, therefore not cutting back on staff and their hours during the closure, with many working remotely to continue to help clients.

CareerSource Southwest Florida spokesperson Janeth Castrejon said reopening on June 1 was the perfect timing for CarerSource because the work search requirement that had been waived by the governor expired on May 30.

She said the governor waived the search of work documentation to ensure a quicker process of unemployment benefits.

“We don’t foresee (him) extending it any further,” Castrejon said, which is why they decided to reopen the center with CDC guidelines in place to help people with their job search.

With Castrejon monitoring the website, she said about a week and a half ago she started seeing a shift in requests from resetting pins for the Reemployment Assistance CONNECT system to individuals needing help on their job search, due to the expiration of the wavier.

Castrejon said they were one of the first regions to embark on a new project when the unemployment issues started. About 40 of their staff volunteered to help people reset pins on the Connect System for unemployment. From the beginning of April until the beginning of this week, she said they have done 5,500 pins across the state, from Southwest Florida to Jacksonville to Palm Beach.

“For a while it was overwhelming,” Castrejon said, adding that they worked seven days a week with a rotating staff for four weeks. “We created a dedicated form on the website to give basic information to call them (clients) and reset pins.”

As of June 1, those filing have to show they are searching for work to continue to receive unemployment benefits.

“We are opening the career centers throughout our five-county region for individuals that need help with their job search, some guidance with building a resume . . . anything relatable to finding a job, we are here to help,” Castrejon said.

Appointments can be made by calling the career center closest to you, or by visiting careersourcesouthwestflorida.com.

There is a dedicated page on their website complete with a form to fill out, which lets their staff know what the individual needs help with. After the form is filled out, Castrejon said they will call and schedule an appointment.

The appointments last anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes, with a 30 minute window between clients to make sure the areas are disinfected.

“We are very mindful of the environment and of the safety of everyone,” Castrejon said.

She said they want to make sure they are very safe for their clients and staff, and therefore are following CDC guidelines with social distancing and masks preferred.

“They will get the one-on-one assistance with appointments,” Castrejon said, adding that they always focus on the client and their needs.

That one-on-one assistance can vary from going over interview skills, how to conduct a job search, to creating a resume. She said they will also help the client get an interview with an employer, which is made possible due to the relationships they have with businesses throughout Southwest Florida.

“We can send them a resume, get them an interview,” Castrejon said, adding that those are great advantages of having those one-on-one appointments.

The largest center, Fort Myers, 6800 Shoppes at Plantation Drive, Suite 170, has 28 computers. She said they can do anywhere from six to seven appointments a day. The phone number is (239) 931-8200.

There will also be an area for possible walk-ins, to assist those who come to the center with scheduling an appointment for another day, and time, Castrejon said.

There also is a satellite office in Cape Coral at 1020 Cultural Park Blvd. The phone number is (239) 673-8591.

The labor market trends for April 2020, which were released Friday, May 22, showed an unemployment rate of 13.3 percent for the state of Florida.

These are historic numbers for Florida. In January 2010, the unemployment rate was 11.3 percent because of the Great Recession.

“We have surpassed the Great Recession numbers for the state of Florida alone,” she said.

When breaking down the April 2020 number further, Southwest Florida has a 14.2 percent unemployment rate and Lee County has a 14.6 unemployment rate. The county with the highest unemployment rate in Southwest Florida is Charlotte County with 15.6 percent.

In Florida there is 569,734 in the labor force, 488,847 employed and 80,887 unemployed. The leisure and hospitality industry had the highest loss with 41,900 jobs, followed by trade, transportation and utilities at a loss of 8,100 jobs.

She said the leisure and hospitality industries were the first ones to close down when the quarantine began.

“A lot of companies have been tremendously affected financially having to close down with the stay at home requests,” Castrejon said. “Some of the companies may not be able to bring back the majority of their staff, or employees. They have been talking about strategic planning to put into place to reopen, (while) others have to close their doors. Those reopening are facing additional financial costs that were not in place for masks, disinfecting offices, having health guidelines in place.”

Unfortunately, she said, the reality is that not every employee will be called back to work, leaving them to find a new job.

“Some individuals have been considering a possible career change,” Castrejon said, adding that is something with which CareerSource can help them.

Another industry affected has been healthcare because people have been afraid of being exposed to the COVID-19 virus. Castrejon said a lot of clients who were sick decided to stay home and take care of themselves.

“Hospitals and healthcare have reported some concerning losses, but I feel that they are going to be bouncing back rather quickly once we get the community more at ease of their level of exposure,” she said, which will lead them to being more relaxed about going to see their doctor. “That is one that is going to bounce back.”

On a positive note, the construction industry, which during the last recession almost completely came to a halt, is thriving and going strong during the COVID-19 closures.

“There are some opportunities there,” Castrejon said of the construction job market.

CareerSource is in the process of reviewing some platforms for job fairs with the hope of having their first one in July.

“We started looking at virtual opportunities,” Castrejon said, adding that they have a professional career network, as well curriculum for those who are attending virtually. “We are also creating videos that are useful for employers and seekers to look at the database.”

She said they wanted to use available technology, which includes the opportunity to a do a virtual job interview.

Castrejon said she believes the rebound for businesses will not be as long, or painful, as the Great Recession, but it is going to take some time to bounce back.

“We know it will be more difficult to land a job because of that situation,” she said of businesses slowly bringing back their workforce. “We still have great relationships with many businesses in the area and will help as many people (as we can) land the job.”