View Count: 298 |  Publish Date: April 07, 2014
Helping the jobless find work and employers find workers
Jane M. Von Bergen, Inquirer Staff WriterPosted: Monday, April 7, 2014, 1:08 AM
City employment trends are improving, but not fast enough for the 55,700 Philadelphians who are jobless but want to work.
Mark Edwards, 51, chief executive at Philadelphia Works Inc., leads the government-funded, quasi-public agency tasked with putting Philadelphias citizens back to work.
Philadelphia Works Inc. operates CareerLink offices in Philadelphia for unemployed job seekers and EARN offices for the jobless on cash assistance.
In Pennsylvania, unemployed people who want to receive jobless benefits must enroll in the states online job-posting system through CareerLink, administered in Philadelphia by Edwards organization.
A persistent challenge for Philadelphia Works has been persuading area employers to use the same system to find prospective hires. Utilization is building, but remains low.
Question. What have been the main challenges in getting employers to use the system?
Answer. The perception that government-funded programs are lots of paperwork, lots of bureaucracy, just a lot of hassle.
Q. Is that true?
A. We say to employers, Yep, compliance is key, so we have to fill out the paperwork. But we try to make that as easy as possible. We try to take on as much of that as we can.
Q. How is that going?
A. Were seeing a higher utilization of our services.
Q. Were you ever laid off?
A. Yes. There was a change in administrations from the Goode administration to the Rendell administration and there was downsizing [causing him to lose his city job].
Q. What was it like on the day you were laid off?
A. It was a horrible feeling. Ill never forget that. I didnt know what tomorrow was going to bring.
Q. But your unemployment had a silver lining.
A. One of the people I talked to was a man whose daughter I ended up marrying. He agreed to allow me to work with him to do project work.
Q. Philadelphias unemployment rate stands at 8.6 percent, down from 11.5 percent the prior year. Its better, but unemployment remains high. Does that discourage you?
A. I dont find it discouraging because from time to time, I talk to job-seekers and I talk to employers. I come across real stories of people who have been out of the job market for a period of time and are able to make a connection through us, or as a result of their own efforts. That keeps me encouraged.
Q. What makes you optimistic?
A. The number of conversations I have with employers who are willing to have a conversation with us about developing ways to help them meet their need for workers.
Q. And pessimistic?
A. The sheer demand - the overwhelming demand from people who are seeking jobs. Its just overwhelming. But we remain undaunted and thats just not me being on script.
Q. Are the jobless just too lazy to work?
A. Oh, absolutely not. Clearly, there are always going to be people who are going to be gaming the system, but I firmly believe that the vast majority of people want to work.
Q. You are a CEO now, but you have other skills.
A. I cut hair for 15 years. They called me Mark the Roving Barber.
Q. Why bow ties?
A. Its practical because when I wear ties, sometimes my lunch ends up on my tie. I dont have that problem with bow ties.
Title: Chief executive, Philadelphia Works, since 2010.
Hometown: Elkins Park
Grew up: Mantua
Family: Wife, Roslyn; children, Mark Jr., 27, Pierce, 17.
Diplomas: University City High School, Morehouse College, political science.
Trades: Security guard, barber.
After that: Top or high-ranking jobs in the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, Urban League, Germantown Settlement, and the Philadelphia office of Local Initiatives Support Corporation.
To relax: Gardening. "I like making things pretty."
Where: Center City
Mission: To connect employers, employees.
Programs: CareerLink for job seekers; EARN centers for welfare job placement; recruiting services for employers.
Employees: 75
Budget, fiscal year 2014: $50.5 million.
Philadelphia firms listing jobs, 2013: 779 firms listing 5,223 jobs.
Placements, 2013: 617 through CareerLink, 3,847 through EARN.
Mark Edwards gives advice to people looking for a job. and answers have been edited for space.
215-854-2769 @JaneVonBergen
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