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When a Plant Closes, Job Agency Steps In

Government Career Centers Advise, Train Laid-Off Workers

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 24, 2005; Page E01

Carol M. Campbell sat in a small room off the lobby of the Von Hoffmann Corp. printing plant, a one-story red brick building in Frederick, listening to dozens of employees ask for her help. Just weeks before, the textbook printer announced it was closing the plant and consolidating its operations at facilities in Missouri and Iowa, throwing the 165 employees there out of work.

"They're feeling out today what they want to do. There are a lot of emotions," Campbell said as she sat in the lobby between the meetings she held the first week in December.

Laid-off workers can use the Frederick County Job Training Agency office as headquarters for their employment searches. (Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)

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Campbell, a career consultant with the Frederick County Job Training Agency, met individually with employees, getting their work histories and learning what they wanted to do next. The plant, which printed primarily computer textbooks, has been there almost 30 years. Von Hoffmann acquired the plant in 1998 from Custom Printing Co. Some workers had been at the plant since high school. Longtime employees made as much as $70,000 a year and worried they would have to take pay cuts.

Campbell worried too. Even in a county with a 2.4 percent unemployment rate, it could be hard to match that pay with the laid-off workers' skills, she said.

The Job Training Agency is the government's effort to help. At the center, workers can use online job sites to search for jobs. They can mail résumés free of charge and get training in résumé writing, interviewing and new skills.

Similar programs in every county in the Washington region and the District get money under the federal Workforce Investment Act and in most cases also from county and state governments.

Frederick County's center received $489,000 from the federal program, $600,000 from the state and $611,000 from the county. The center also received federal and state money from mass-layoff and grant programs, bringing its total budget to $2 million a year. Montgomery County's job training center has a budget of about $4 million, the District about $9 million, Falls Church's program almost $2 million and Prince William about $1 million.

Federal funding has decreased in recent years, officials at those centers said. For example, federal funds to the Frederick County center decreased about 10 percent a year in the past four years, said Laurie Holden, director of the Job Training Agency.

The cuts come as the centers try to offer more services to deal with a more diverse workforce. Three years ago, Montgomery County job centers began hiring staff members who could speak Spanish and English. Two years ago, Prince George's County's job center decided to focus some staff members on helping Hispanic day laborers find more permanent work. They placed some in construction companies and gave many workers English lessons. Frederick also offers a class that teachers English as a second language.

The staff at the Falls Church center speak Vietnamese, Spanish, Farsi, Somali and Korean to help the immigrant workforce there. "Having staff that can not only speak but understand culture helps that person assimilate into the American workplace," said Dai Nguyen, program manager for Fairfax County's job centers.

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