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JOBS: Market still tight as faithful continue search

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By Alex Wimsatt

 SHEPHERDSVILLE - Like so many Kentuckians out of work, 20-year-old Michael Curtsinger is having a hard time finding a job. 

It’s been nearly two years since he began searching for sustainable employment with help from Shepherdsville’s KentuckianaWorks Youth Career Center, a regional quasi-governmental program dedicated to providing job placement and basic work skills to young adults at no cost.

Curtsinger, who dropped out of high school after getting a year behind in his coursework, signed up with KentuckianaWorks in March 2010 to earn his GED. 

After receiving his diploma, Curtsinger took a temporary job with a local factory. Six months later he was unemployed. 

Curtsinger then accepted a position cleaning utility lines for a Nashville, Tenn. based company. 

For five months he commuted to and from job sites across the U.S. using his own vehicle. 

Eventually the long hours on the road and the wear and tear on his car became more of a hassle than the job was worth, so, he quit. 

Since quitting, Curtsinger has found sporadic employment in the construction business while searching for more permanent work.

In his quest for sustainable employment, Curtsinger recently attended a KentuckianaWorks jobs fair in Shepherdsville. 

There he met with some of the more than dozen local employers taking applications, including Geek Squad, UPS and Publishers Printing.

Curtsinger turned in applications, but he said he was only slightly optimistic about his prospects. 

With youth unemployment rampant across the state Curtsinger has reason to feel discouraged.

While overall jobless rates fell in 99 Kentucky counties in October, according to the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training, Business Insider magazine recently reported Kentucky ranks among the 13 states with the worst youth unemployment rate in the nation.

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show 18.5 percent of Kentucky workers ages 20-24 are unemployed.

Compare that with Oct. 2011 Department of Labor statistics, which show Kentucky’s overall unemployment rate at 9.6 percent, slightly lower than Oct. 2010 when the rate was 10.2 percent.

Incidentally, Department of Labor statistics also show 10.3 percent of Bullitt and Jefferson counties’ total workforce were unemployed as of September 2011.

Many like to place blame squarely on the individual when it comes to unemployment, arguing that finding and keeping a job requires nothing more than initiative and personal responsibility.

As KentuckianaWorks business development specialist Gordon Melton explained, there are a variety of reasons why people are unemployed and in many cases those reasons are simply beyond their control, especially when it comes to young adults. 

Most who sign up with KentuckianaWorks Youth Career Center have little education and even less work experience.

Then there’s the economy. 

“The economy’s the first thing job seekers are dealing with no matter who they are,” he said. 

With three college degrees and a wealth of experience, even Melton spent months looking for a job before getting on with KentuckianaWorks. 

“The pitfalls are the same for everyone no matter how much experience or education you have...It’s a stiff market right now,” he said. “You’re in an even deeper hole if you have no skills or education.”

Melton said KentuckianaWorks clients not only have difficulty getting jobs, but retaining them. 

Among the most common issues Melton sees with regard to job retention is transportation. 

Melton said clients may land jobs, but if they don’t have reliable modes of transportation they can’t get to and from work. 

And for those without their own vehicles, getting around in Bullitt County is particularly difficult because there is little public transportation.

In the future, Melton hopes KentuckyWorks can provide some kind of shuttle service for clients, but that will depend on whether or not the program, which is primarily funded through Goodwill Industries of Kentucky and Louisville-Metro KentuckianaWorks, can attain additional funding. 

Not unlike a lot of 20-somethings, Curtsinger has a car, but he doesn’t have much experience, education or on the job training. 

Most of the companies Curtsinger has applied with have told him they can’t hire him because he doesn’t have on the job training

Curtsinger described his situation as a catch 22.

“I can’t get training or experience because I don’t have a job. I can’t get a job because I don’t have training or experience,” he said.

Curtsinger isn’t alone.

On average, eight to 10 Bullitt County young adults seek help from Shepherdsville’s KentuckianaWorks Youth Career Center on a weekly basis. 

Despite the slow economic recovery, there are companies willing to give 20-somethings a chance.

One of Bullitt County’s largest employers, Publishers Printing, has frequently hired young adults for entry level positions.

Though many employers have downsized, Publishers’ director of human resources Susie Fields said the locally based company has remained on the lookout for fresh employees. 

Fields praised KentuckianaWorks as an asset to the community, adding that while other employers may be leery of hiring young adults, Publishers has seen great things from their less experienced employees.  

 “Our employees have an average of 14 years of service and more than 70 percent of our supervisors started in entry level positions,” Fields said. “If they come to us with at least basic work skills and a willingness to work we’ll teach them the rest.”

As for Curtsinger, he isn’t giving up hope. He plans to go to trade school and work part time until he finds a permanent position.