August 21, 1996
Labor Day heroes for 1996
They keep our unemployment rate among the lowest in the nation. Businesses depend on
them for the workers they need to survive. They're co-authors of Wisconsin's welfare
reform success story.
They are Wisconsin's employment specialists, working out of the state's network of Job
Centers, county courthouses and state office buildings from Superior to Kenosha.
"They are the front line workers who put the rest of Wisconsin to work," said Richard C.
Wegner, acting secretary of the Department of Workforce Development. "They are our
Labor Day heroes."
All serve the individual needs of every job seeker with whatever services they need to
become members of Wisconsin's growing, world-class workforce in Wisconsin's
Partnership for Full Employment.
No wonder the National Alliance of Business selected Wisconsin as "a national leader in
building a quality workforce for America's future."
They are people like ...
Grant County Job Center, Lancaster
Team leader: Job Center, Private Industry Council, JOBS program, Southwest Tech,
Vocational Rehabilitation, Trade Adjustment Act.
[Lois Knoble has been helping people find jobs since 1979.]
"Over the years I have seen some wonderful things that we've done in helping people to
become self-sufficient. A lot of the success for us here is due to the coordination of all the
agencies. The Private Industry Council and Job Services and Older Worker Services and
so on - all working together. It is not just one person working but a whole bunch of people
working for someone. We put our heads together on real tough cases on how can we help
"But we don't find them jobs. I want to correct that. We help them find a job. They have
got to realize it is not us doing it for them!
"A gal I worked with recently did not have much of a work history; she had been on
welfare for years. She is second generation, her four kids are third generation coming up
on it. We were working with her and having her face what her problems have been and
acknowledge that. She is working now. She got the job, she arranged for her ride and her
backup ride - she has no driver's license - she arranged for day care and backup day care.
"She is working at Mercury Industries in Richland Center. She is making $6 an hour,
doing assembly work ... and she is thrilled about it.
[Lois gives another example of a former welfare recipient finding work.] "But we worked
through a lot of issues with those two, just to have them face some of the barriers they had.
No driver's license, never having worked, reliance on a boyfriend who, really, was quite
abusive. That she would have to take responsibility for the children themselves.
"Another girl hurt her back. Through the Work Experience program she became trained in
clerical skills and became proficient in a short time. Now she is an administrative secretary
at a school and she opened her own day care in that town. A successful day care.
"You have to take control of your own life. So often in helping these people succeed it's a
matter of their attitude and their self-esteem."
[Lois also works with workers laid off from Advance Transformer Co.] "Those people are
REAL motivated. They're eager! We'll probably have 160 of them in retraining. There's a
lot of on-the-job training instead of classroom training. They are promoting themselves.
"So many of people I work with in the welfare program ... they don't have the role models
to look at; that becomes a factor. It all boils down to attitude. If people want to succeed,
they're going to succeed, even if they're second or third generation welfare. People always
ask me if there are jobs for the welfare people out there. Jobs! Yes, there are jobs! But
you may have to take a job that you don't particularly care for just to develop that work
history or recommendation in order to move onto something else. I tell people I'm 61 and
I'm still looking for that perfect job.
"W-2, it's not a punitive program. It's really meant to help people stand on their own two
legs. They haven't had the breaks a lot of people have but that doesn't mean they can't
overcome those and be successful.
"A lot of times people don't realize what options are out there in the world of work. It is
tunnel vision. One gentlemen, he was in his 50s, was talking about not being able to get
work. I asked him if he ever thought of using his skills from one field into another field. He
was so surprised; he never even thought about it!
"I think there is a niche for everybody. It's (a matter of) finding it. Sometimes it takes a
little bit longer. You have to be positive. That's the thing I like about this job: sometimes
you can really open the windows and explore possibilities people never thought about. It's
worked out great!"
Dane County Job Center, Madison
Job service specialist who teaches job seeking skills and motivation to AFDC recipients.
"Some people when they come to us are a little leery. You can tell by their body language:
their arms are crossed, they're sitting back with their legs crossed and leaning back in
chair as if to say 'O.K., I'm here.' Or they just don't have a lot to say. So I spend time
getting to know them and let them get to know me.
"I tell them about myself. I tell them the difficulties I've had in finding employment from
time to time; when I first started looking for work. I worked in private industry for 16 years
and my company was bought out several times.
"We get people with no work history or very little; or large gaps. Some work history but
for 10 years, no employment. Maybe they are stay-at-home moms who are separated,
divorced, widowed, facing the workforce again. Their stories as varied as the people who
come; there's such a cross section!
"They introduce themselves; they tell me they feel like a number or a nonentity. I spend
time with each person individually so they realize they have some self-worth and that they
do have skills that can be put to use.
"Then we do in-depth skills assessment, getting people to realize that if we do not have a
work history we have life experiences, hobbies, characteristics we can offer an employee.
Anything from typing to housekeeping skills. There may be some volunteer work you've
done. Or putting a fly fishing lure together. That shows me this person has patience and
can do detail work. Do you like to work alone? Do you come up with good ideas? Are you
always the one who is getting others organized. Are you prompt? Then we do some
"Then I ask, which one of these would be important in a construction site? If you did this
once, wouldn't it make sense that you could take this skill into a job?
"We actually take this skills stuff and put it into a resume. You can almost see people puff
up like pigeons. They begin to realize 'Hey, there's a lot more to me than I realized.' It's a
good feeling, considering that when they come in they are half-angry at you and they leave
as a friend.
"We tell them that no matter what, you're in sales; you have to believe in your product and
be like that sales person who knocks on one more door. And when you hear 'No,' don't
take it personally, just keep on knocking.
"One young lady, when she came in ... her language skills were not the best. She did have
a long way to go. That girl worked and worked and she got her job. We all cheered,
because it was a real uphill struggle for her. She is a mail clerk at an insurance company -
$6 hour. I think she is making more now.
"When we see that it works, when we see the success, this is what keeps us going.
Because we're only human, too.
"Anybody who wants to find a job can. I'm not saying they can move into their ideal job. I
would say some people have some unrealistic goals. Sometimes we have to work up to that.
So we have to talk about that. We tell them to take a job just to get some training and a
"You've got to start some place. Once you do, then you're on your way."
"There was a time in my life I was in the same position they are in. I had someone who
helped me greatly. Now it is time for me to pay that person back, so if I do something for
you, I am paying that person back."
Downtown State Office Building, Milwaukee
Job club coordinator, team leader for mandatory referrals from AFDC for Pay For
[Pay for Performance is a welfare reform that began March 1. It requires AFDC recipients
to devote up to 35 hours a week in job search, preparation, or in a practice job or lose
"So we hold workshops, teach them how to look for work and how to keep jobs. Write up
an employability plan. It's an agreement, like a contract. It targets what they want to do,
what their goals are and steps that will be taken to meet their goals.
"This is mandatory. They're told they have to do this if they want to continue receiving a
grant. They've had maybe no jobs or very little work experience. They're basically used to
what they've known, which is a check every month, food stamps, and a medical card. Now
it's all on the line and they're not too sure.
"They're inexperienced; they're scared; their sense of security is on the line. So we make
introductions. Introduce each other with positive names. One was 'Lovable Lucinda.'
Another was 'Trustable Tina.'
"They may not realize they have talents and some experience that could be useful in the
labor market. We have them put it in writing. They practice interviewing for a job. How to
answer a questionnaire. Resume writing. How to reach the 'hidden' labor market. That's
where a job is not posted anywhere. Identify what they want to do. They become
telemarketers; they make telephone calls from Yellow Pages based on what they want to
do and the location. They're making cold calls, selling themselves.
"Trustable Tina is looking for a job as a cashier, child care provider, food service, or
certified nursing assistant.
"They practice meeting the manager, eye contact, dress. We tell them they need to
introduce themselves by name. 'I'm here to apply for the position of nursing assistant.' Eye
contact. Positive. They get hired if they follow this. Three were hired today. Full-time (as
collators of laminated advertising materials). They felt wonderful. They realize they have
to start somewhere.
"The jobs are out there. But a lot of them think working at McDonald's is dead-end, but it
doesn't have to be. If you' re not rich, that's the only way you're going to move up in the
world. You have to start somewhere. We don't stress pay, at all. It's not important; what is
important is that they get themselves established; they have to start somewhere. They're
not going a $10 an hour job right away but they may very well if they work it. (To keep a
job) we stress attendance is important; make sure you have reliable child care, that you
can get to the job.
"[Pay For Performance] is waking a lot of people up. We tell them when they come into
orientation and if they don't participate they will lose. It seems not to sink in because when
they get into employment search and they may fall out and don't come back until they lose
the grant. Sometimes change is good wakes you up and keeps you on your toes.
"I think they're looking at a better way of life."
[Barnier landed on welfare herself 24 years ago when her husband left her with a child,
bills and little work experience.]
"It was rough. I just (went) out there and did it. I got a part-time job. Then a social worker
told me about the (old) W.I.N. program. I kept my appointments with counselors, they
referred me to on-the-job training with a business making dental appliances. Then I
decided I wanted to be a dental assistant. When that job ended I started with the state in
apprenticeship because I had been in an apprenticable occupation."
Milwaukee South Job Center
[Phil Anderson works with AFDC applicants referred to him by the Self-Sufficiency First
welfare reform program, which attempts to prevent people from falling into the welfare
"I try to instill in all the applicants that being independent and self-sufficient means getting
a good job, then you wouldn't have to worry about all these bureaucrats controlling you.
Once you get on welfare, there are certain things you are going to have to do to stay on it.
If you can be independent and self-sufficient you won't have to be on it.
"(The key is) motivation. For the most part, these individuals are going out and getting
jobs. I'm averaging 15 hires per month. These are applicants who are making $7 (and hour)
and up. Some of them are working in secretarial fields, restaurants, manufacturing, day
care, commercial cleaning. I tell them I hope this will be long term for you and that you can
go on from here and get some education to go on further with your life. I get smiles and
nods. I would say three-fourths of them really mean to get something for themselves. I
really feel it's a positive.
"I was out of work one time and I had to have friends motivate me. I was fortunate never
to have been on welfare or general assistance. But I was out of work and out there looking.
So I can relate to them.
"Some come in really disgruntled; I let them know I am a "for real" person. I try to boost
them up to get that gleam in their eye. I try to say something very positive and that I am a
human being and that I will treat you as one."
"I guess my approach is working. [He laughs.] I feel good about it. I really enjoy doing
what I'm doing."
Walworth County Job Center, Elkhorn
Employment specialist for all job seekers, including AFDC recipients whom she gets off
welfare through the JOBS and the Pay for Performance programs.
"Every person who walks in our door is unique. (My job) is a matter of using what we have
and adjusting it for them.
"I do workshops on conducting interviews, writing résumés, and making job applications. I
keep telling them that all three are like the info-mercials you see on TV and to present
themselves in a positive light. With info-mercials on TV, how often do you see one that has
something negative about the product? You don't. The products they are selling are
themselves, to the employers.
"Some have low self-esteem; they don't realize all the skills they have. They start finding
out they have more skills than they think. They don't realize everything they have done
and how things they do in every day life can translate to a job.
"I feel good helping people. I feel that I'm making a positive difference.
"I'm a single parent, myself. My son is 24 now. I say, 'I've been there; I know what it's
like to juggle day care, making alternative arrangements when a child is sick so you can
get to work. You need to plan ahead, budget your time as well as your money. You need to
spend time with your children, cooking and laundry. If you are used to sitting and watching
TV all the time, you're going to have a problem.' I say, 'you can do it.'
"We have seen successes, participants who obtain employment and then, for whatever
reason, they end up being laid off or there is a problem with a job. But they come back,
update their resume, and use JobNet because once you get a job it's easier to find a job.
"Instead of going back on AFDC they're finding something else to better themselves; they
notice a difference in themselves in how they feel about themselves. One person was
indefinitely laid off July 14 and is starting work starting tomorrow. She is finding how much
better things are for herself and her children.
"She feels that she can do more with her children. I have encouraged her to study to get a
driver's license. She's looking at being able to do things with her two small daughters, just
a small vacation, buy school clothes. She is thinking that this year she will be able to have
Christmas for them. It's not that she is making tons of money but she is having more
coming in than in AFDC. She will be working in a department store as a sales clerk and out
on the floor.
"She feels good about herself now. By feeling good about herself then her children feel
good. Children learn from example. Now she is getting her daughters involved in Girl
"I think the vast majority of people can work. Once people are working they feel so much
better about themselves; there is pride. People want to be able to say they can do certain
things for themselves. But we have to look at how we can overcome the barriers.
"Most employers seem to be happy. A number of employers have no idea that the person
they just hired has been on AFDC. Most employers just want a good worker, someone that
will be there on time, every day, willing to do the job, willing to learn, maybe at times take
on additional responsibilities. Face it, it's a fact of life: you're never going to have a
position description that spells out every little job duty you will be required to do.
"I tell people there's something called 'other duties as assigned.'"
Disabled veterans opportunities officer
Washington County Workforce Development Center, West Bend, and Ozaukee Job
"Being a disabled Vietnam veteran myself, I am able to relate to the veterans who come
into the Job Center.
"There was a veteran going through some tough times. He eventually ended up living in
his car. We updated his resume. I did a number of job developments with him. I was able to
get him in sales. He is now in a management position in a large national chain. He still calls
on occasion to say 'hi!' He's come a long way from living in his car.
"Employers call me and say they want veterans because of their work ethic. They are
dependable, used to getting up early and they don't question orders.
"The way I feel about it, veterans have given up years to serve their country when they
return, sometimes they need a little help in training and employment. I feel they have
"I was named the Wisconsin Local Veterans Employment Representative of the Year by
the Disabled American Veterans; I represented the state at the national convention in New
Orleans July 26-27 and received a runner-up award. I'm married with two children.
"I feel proud to work with veterans. I feel good when they call and say they have been
hired at such and such a place. I feel I've accomplished something after I go home after a
"(If anything stands in the way of succeeding) it's their own self-doubt. We try to get them
to overcome them. We have JobNet, a video library, and workshops on career changes,
how to conduct job searches, veterans networking and resource services. I have a show on
local cable TV where we go out and tape local companies. We go behind the scenes and
talk to area employers and managers, go out in the plant and talk to workers, show what
they do, tell what their background is.
"It's called "Job Center Show."