Oct. 6, 2010— -- Georgia's high unemployment rate of 10 percent has labor officials scrambling to prevent more people from joining the ranks of the unemployed, and ultimately to bring the number down.
The state's labor department created a new work program for every unemployed person in the state. The program allows an unemployed person to approach an interested employer, and work under a trial period while getting trained. The state underwrites the cost of that work for six weeks.
When it works, it's a win-win for everyone. An employer gets a state-sanctioned worker for free; in exchange, the worker gets new hope that at the end of the trial period, they will be hired.
Rhonda Smith was one of those unemployed people. She was laid off from her job at a performing arts center.
"You kind of have blinders on at that time and everything looks very dark," Smith said. "Everything looks very bleak and you can only focus on, you know the 'what if's' and what are we going to do?"
Under the Georgia, program, those workers who qualify for unemployment insurance will continue to receive their payments during the six weeks they're in the trial period. Those workers who don't qualify for unemployment insurance will get a $600 stipend from the state.
Smith was one of the few who were able to take advantage of the Georgia Works program. She got a job at the James Madison Inn Spa.
"Everyone had a commitment to make it work and it has worked. It's been wonderful," Smith said. "We may have about 13 or 14 staff members that would not have employment right now if it were not for the spa."
Georgia Expands Program
Mary Diletto, Rhonda's boss and manager of the inn, said the program worked out well for their business.
"You have a staff person, a warm body to help run your business and they're learning and at the end of six or eight weeks you go 'Wow! This is perfect, I'll hire you,'" Diletto said.
From there, Smith had a hand in hiring 12 more people to work at the spa, who would otherwise have been unemployed.
"They're happy and they're working and we're busy," Smith said.
Smith said the program turned her discouragement after getting laid off into new hope for employment.
"Every day, I walk in that business and I just say, 'Thank you Lord that you have given me a place to do business,'" Smith said.
Renee' Turner was an apartment manager, who was laid off. Now, as part of the new program, she is going to work in hospice administration.
"It gives me something productive to do with my time other than pounding the pavement and trying to find work. It helps me to maintain a positive attitude and keep hope alive," Turner said.
"I hope it turns into a job," Turner said. "I believe that it will as a matter of fact, I believe that it will."
Georgia's labor commissioner, Michael Thurmond,said the program works because employers and employees get a custom-fit. And the unemployed get personally invested in the job. There is really no risk for either party, he said.
Of the thousands of unemployed workers who enrolled in the program, 36 percent were hired permanently within the first six weeks and 63 percent found jobs within the next 90 days.