Platform To Employment Program Making Progress With Long-Term Jobless

Ray Hodge lost his job as an energy company's logistics director in June of 2009.

"The company took a new direction and placed emphasis on being a hedge fund," he said.

Hodge didn't have much luck looking for a new job. "I didn't receive any interviews. People said, 'Nice resume, but you don't fit the criteria as well as some other people we have in mind.' How much of that is true and how much is because I'm a little more senior? A lot of things come into play, but you try not to focus on that because it could lead you into a state of depression."

Now Hodge, who is 64 and lives in Trumbull, Conn., has found work, thanks partly to an innovative Connecticut program targeting "99ers" -- people who have been out of work for 99 weeks or longer and have run out of unemployment insurance. There were nearly 2 million Americans who had been out of work that long in July, according to the Labor Department.

The program is called "Platform to Employment," and it has received a lot of attention since a February "60 Minutes" segment that suggested it could be a national solution to the crisis of long-term unemployment. Its creator, Joe Carbone, has testified before Congress and traveled to other states to share information about P2E, as he sometimes calls it.

It works like this: Carbone's nonprofit company, called The WorkPlace, Inc., raised $500,000 from private investors to put a hundred 99ers through a five-week training course that emphasizes job-getting skills. Then the program places them in work trials with local companies, during which The WorkPlace subsidizes their wages for eight weeks. Then companies can hire them or not.

Policymakers have espoused similar concepts, and earlier this year Congress said states could try out programs in which unemployment insurance dollars subsidize a worker's training at a private company (as of late June, no states had applied). But while labor advocates are wary of using the unemployment system to subsidize wages, they don't mind if a nonprofit company raises money from investors to do it.

According to the most recent data from The WorkPlace, of the first 100 people who enrolled earlier this year, 69 landed internships, and of those, 90 percent have been hired full time. The program is still seeking placements for the rest, except for three people who dropped out and six who turned down more than one job offer or interview. (The Harvard Business School is conducting its own evaluation of the program, Carbone said.)

"The results continue to exceed all expectations," Carbone said in an "investor update" email on Monday. "We have proven that given the proper tools and services, the growing number of long-term unemployed can regain their footing and be hopeful again."

The WorkPlace received an additional $200,000 in funding from AARP, the seniors advocacy group, for another group of workers older than 50. While the unemployment rate for people 55 and older is significantly lower than the national average, older workers who do lose their jobs are likely to be out of work for much longer. The average unemployment spell for older workers was 51.4 weeks in July, compared with 34.9 weeks for those younger than 55.

Since Platform to Employment's AARP class graduated from training in late May, 13 of 20 enrollees have been placed in trial jobs. One of them is Gwen Harris of Stamford, who said her search for work had been fruitless since she lost her job as an IT project manager in April 2010. She said she hadn't had to look for a job since the 1980s, when the process wasn't completely dominated by the Internet.

"You try to do this face-to-face but everybody directs you to their website," she said. "This whole new process of everything online, it was doable, but you never get a response back."

With the help of Platform to Employment, Harris recently started a receptionist job with a local workforce center. Harris said she had attended meetings several days a week in Bridgeport, where she received social media advice, as well as a plethora of tips on other aspects of searching for work and being jobless.

"They had resume critiquing, interviewing skills, financial advice," she said. "If you needed to, you could speak with a psychologist to help you deal with being long-term unemployed. Plus, you had the support of the group as well, which was wonderful."

The program doesn't close a so-called "skills gap" that has kept workers from available jobs -- it reduces hiring risks for companies wary of the long unemployed, and it helps jobless workers recover from the emotional damage wrought by two years or more of joblessness.

"The change is the mind," Carbone told "60 Minutes." "That two years of unemployment erodes your self-confidence, your self-esteem."

Hodge echoed that sentiment.

"It helped us to realize we're not isolated, we're not alone," he said. "It's a marketplace that's denied our existence for X amount of time. Platform to Employment gave us the confidence, the courage, to present ourselves to companies, human resource experts, anyone. We carried ourselves a lot more confidently."

Hodge reflected on what happens inside the mind of the long-term unemployed, and the minds of people who might hire them.

"When you look at someone in my situation, the first thing they're saying is, 'Does he really want to work?' When you've circulated 500-plus resumes, you've exhausted your network two or three times over and nothing has come to fruition, it does become self-defeating," he said.

"As long as you're doing your due diligence -- making that phone call, following up -- then eventually something will come of it," Hodge continued. "In this case what came of it was the hard work I put out before Platform to Employment was reinforced. They gave me some uplifting, which vitalized me."