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Building Innovation is a collection of stories by 90.5 fm WESA reporters about the Pittsburgh region focusing on efficient government operation, infrastructure and transportation, innovative practices, energy and environment and neighborhoods and community.

Putting Long-Term Unemployed Back to Work in Pittsburgh

Kate Hiscock

The longer you are unemployed, the harder it is to find a job, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board announced Thursday a program geared specifically to the long-term unemployed will soon be available in Pittsburgh. The Platform to Employment (P2E) program is more specialized in that it focuses solely on people who have been unemployed for at least 27 weeks.

“The needs that you have in order to get yourself back into the workforce are very different,” said Joe Carbone, president and CEO of The Workplace, which first launched P2E. “We think we assembled the right tools that are necessary so that folks who are long-term unemployed, many of which who have given up any future in terms of being a part of the workforce, can actually overcome that and come back in and be productive employees.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in early 2010 the number of long-term unemployed reached a record high of 6.7 million, or 45.1 percent of all of the nation's unemployed. Since then, the number has gradually declined to 2.8 million, or 31.6 percent of the unemployed, as of the end of 2014.

In addition to work training, P2E offers participants behavioral health services, financial counseling and more.

“In all probability, there will be people who’ve exhausted their unemployment benefits, which means they’ve been out of work for six months,” said Carbone, “and they would be folks who have had some hit on their self-confidence, which is not unusual for people that are long-term unemployed. Sometimes they have emotional challenges – things like depression go hand in hand with long-term unemployment.”

People must apply to P2E, which will take 20 to 30 people at first. It starts with a five week program that requires participants to attend full-day classes four days a week. This, said Carbone, is meant to add discipline back into the lives of people who haven’t had to go to a job in a long time. Work history will be examined and then P2E will find employers with open jobs and coordinate employment for qualified candidates.

This is different from programs that offer specific training in the trades or with a particular skill; Carbone said the immediate goal is not training.

“It’s to build on what you were when you were employed,” he said. “It’s to break the cycle of unemployment. When you’ve been long-term unemployed, to try to get back to where you were before is not a three-month kind of a deal – it can take a year, it can take two years.”

But, he said P2E has seen positive results with nearly 90 percent of participants landing a full-time job after the program. P2E started in Connecticut and is operating in cities including, Chicago, San Francisco, Denver, Cincinnati, and Minneapolis.