Despite an unemployment rate that runs as high as 10 percent in some areas of Prince George's County, federally funded job-training programs are having difficulty filling some of their classes, according to the head of the Private Industry Council, which runs the programs.
"It is unusual," said Joseph Puhalla, president of the council in Prince George's. "We've run ads, we try to get to the community with outreach, I just don't know . . . . "
Earlier this week, about 100 people showed up for an all-day, open house session in Capitol Heights to learn about free job training in the cable-television industry, but only 30 actually were looking for jobs, according to Bill Summerhour, program coordinator.
The six- to eight-week program, run by the national engineering and construction firm of Henkels and McCoy, trains men and women to install cable television lines and maintain the cable systems.
Six classes have been held in Prince George's since April of last year, only sometimes filling the 15 to 17 spaces in each class. Participants must be unemployed and meet certain income requirements. Those accepted for training receive $1.50-an-hour stipends during 240 hours of training.
The current class, which ends on Friday, had only 11 members, Summerhour said. His company runs similar training programs in a dozen other states, including Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Florida.
"Everywhere else we run cable training programs, we have a waiting list. We ask for a minimum of 50 so we can take, maybe, 15," said Summerhour. "Here, the most people I've ever talked to for one class is 31--and if I hadn't beaten the bushes and put ads in the newspaper, I wouldn't have had them."
Inadequate county transportation and poor job-search skills on the part of the unemployed may be among the reasons that more people do not show up for the training programs, says Lona Hatter, information specialist with United Communities Against Poverty (UCAP), a poverty organization in the county.
"We who are low-income, high school or below in education, really do not know how to job search," said Hatter. "Just knowing some of the job jargon is beyond some of these people."
In January of last year the private industry council took over management of the $5.2 million federally funded job-training program, formerly run by the county government under the CETA program.
The council is composed of local businessmen appointed by the county executive, and it administers some 30 contracts for training in areas that include clerical work, machine tools, maintainance, landscaping and computer operations, as well as the cable television program. Approximately 200 men and women are in training at a time.
Puhalla said that recruiting is difficult, particularly in areas requiring higher skills, because of insufficient outreach into the communities most in need of the jobs. The council does not advertise on television as much as the old CETA program did, Puhalla said, and the staff administering the contracts has been trimmed by cuts in last year's federal budget, from about 52 employes to 26.
Puhalla said he plans to double the amount of time that his four outreach workers spend in the community, at locations that include the social services office in Hyattsville and the state unemployment office in Greenbelt, from 15 percent of their time currently to 30 percent. The council also is looking into using space in community storefronts or churches.
"It has to change," he said, "We have to become more visible."