Originally created 07/01/03

Training program offers hope to the unemployed



WATKINSVILLE, Ga. - In January, George McKay unexpectedly found himself among the ranks of the nation's unemployed.

A program director for Southern Broadcasting Co. in Oconee County, he lost his job when the company downsized.

Initially devastated, he spent more than a week at home feeling sorry for himself.

"But you sit at home watching Jerry Springer for a couple of weeks, you're really in a hurry to get back to work," the 40-year-old said from his home in Athens. "There's only so much of that you can take."

So in February, he applied for unemployment benefits through the Georgia Department of Labor's Athens Career Center and later heard about a job training initiative called Georgia Works, a pilot program that could be expanded statewide.

The initiative, which was begun in April by state Labor Commissioner Michael Thurmond, allows unemployed people to get on-the-job training in several areas throughout the state while they are receiving unemployment benefits.

For companies, the effort means they can bring an employee on board for training without having to commit to hiring the worker. For the unemployed, however, Georgia Works can be the difference between employment and despair.

"It gives everyone hope," said Mr. McKay, who is working as a real estate appraiser. "It gives people a chance to get training in a career they are interested in."

In a state where about 200,000 people are unemployed, the nation's slowly expanding economy can't create jobs fast enough.

Even as the wheels of the country's economic engine continue to turn, job creation remains a tough sell to companies reluctant to risk the added expense of bringing on more workers. That's why Mr. Thurmond began Georgia Works. With five pilot programs in the state - in Athens, Cartersville, Macon and two in Atlanta - the Georgia Department of Labor is offering companies the opportunity to link up with the agency to "audition" workers before hiring them.

The goal, he said, is near-term job creation.

"With so many people unemployed, I felt like we needed to do something," he said.

Usually employers have to hire workers, then train them, he said. But with Georgia Works, all employers have to agree to is a training site and supervision for out-of-work residents.

The unemployed receive payment from the Department of Labor through their unemployment benefits, so there is no cost to the company. So far, more than 100 companies have signed on throughout the state.