Down economy has Hub career aides in demand

Robin Hamilton | 4/29/2009, 6:10 p.m.

Banner reporter Robin Hamilton talks with job seekers and staff at Boston Career Link about searching for employment in a tough economy.

The Goodwill marquee near the intersection of Melnea Cass Boulevard and Harrison Avenue is a recognizable landmark for the many Bostonians who travel through it. But right next to that store stands another business that’s just as bustling these days: Boston Career Link, a service that offers job seekers computer and skills training — and, whenever possible, a path to employment.

“Folks are looking for anything at this point,” explains Maddrey Goode, manager of business services at Boston Career Link. “Folks are willing to be underemployed at this point. There is definitely more of a [sense] of desperation.”

Goode says that more and more people are relying on Boston Career Link as a resource as they try to weather the country’s ongoing financial crisis. According to the state’s Office of Labor and Workforce Development, the unemployment rate in Massachusetts continued its rise last month, creeping up to 7.8 percent in March after coming in at 7.7 percent in February.

That figure translated into record attendance at Boston Career Link’s most recent job fair, held March 31. The office was expecting 250 people. Four hundred showed up.

“It’s always a hard time when you lose a job, and now it’s even harder,” says Joanne K. Hilferty, CEO of Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit that manages the career services organization. “Boston Career Link offers people the chance to come in [to] a professional environment. It gives people a sense of hope.”

Hilferty says that the employment level of those who visit Boston Career Link runs the gamut from CEOs and managers to lower-level employees. Anyone that comes into the Harrison Avenue office has access to “job banks,” which are resources that can help people locate and apply for open positions in a variety of companies, as well as computer workshops and seminars designed to help people work on their job interviewing skills.

“Based on the one-stop career module, it is open to everyone,” Hilferty says.

It’s also free, which is a huge bonus for some clients, especially those who may not have access to a computer. Hilferty says that today’s job searches are conducted almost exclusively online.

“No one will accept a paper application, and then [applicants] feel completely unskilled in finding jobs,” she says.

But services like those provided by Boston Career Link can help job seekers bridge the gap quickly.

“If someone doesn’t even have basic computer skills, in five afternoons, you can get that,” she adds.

Many job seekers are reticent to speak about their attempts to find a position. One woman who declined to give her name would only say, “It is tough. But I know I can do it.”

There have been success stories. A recent job training class called “Let’s Talk Shop” resulted in 13 people being hired by Stop and Shop Supermarket Co. for various positions.

Lola Fernandez, a career advisor at Boston Career Link, says such seminars are helpful because they give people both training and encouragement.

“We tell people that they need to treat their job search like their job,” Fernandez says. “If they worked 40 hours a week, they need to spend 40 hours looking for a job.”

Fernandez says that the people she advises typically take job searching seriously, and that all they’re really missing is an opportunity.

“They just need a chance,” she says.

Boston Career Link is located at 1010 Harrison Avenue, Boston. For more information about the organization and its services, call 617-536-1888 or visit http://www.bostoncareerlink.org.