June 1, 2020. CTPost. Alexander Soule

Anticipating a wave of clients in its wheelhouse — those out of work six months — The WorkPlace has slots open through mid-June for its free Platform to Employment program, which provides intensive training for those looking to switch careers to more promising fields and subsidizes pay for introductory jobs to help employers gauge performance in the workplace prior to any decisions on permanent hires.

Originated by the Bridgeport workforce investment board with funding from the state of Connecticut and the U.S. Department of Labor, Platform to Employment grew out of the Great Recession, when the number of Americans doubled to 6.7 million who were left searching for work for at least half a year. Since Platform to Employment received national attention on the CBS program “60 Minutes”, other states have adopted their own programs including Rhode Island.

As of the first three months of this year, the ranks of the long-term unemployed nationally had dropped to just above 1.1 million. That will change this fall, the degree to which will depend on how quickly business confidence rebounds to spur new hiring.

Through a combination of workshops over several weeks and initial job stints, Platform to Employment is designed to train people for new careers who for whatever reason are not generating interest from recruiters — and importantly, give employers a chance to view them in the workplace to assess their ability to learn and contribute.

“You’ve got a bucket for people that you know, eventually, will be called back by their employer … or by some other employer, but it’s going to take time,” said Joe Carbone, CEO of The WorkPlace. “The [other] one is people who are never going back to where they were. And when you’ve got volume like this, you need a program that can discern the difference and that can focus on the only thing that matters, which is to keep the mind in a mode in which their self-confidence remains high.”

Since the week of March 15, more than 500,000 Connecticut residents filed initial claims for unemployment insurance, joining more than 40,000 people entering March who were already receiving benefits. Among Connecticut residents receiving benefits for the first time as of the end of April, 67,000 people were age 50 or above, with the state Department of Labor still finalizing figures for May.

“We’ve moved it (to address) … issues like age,” Carbone said, of Platform to Employment’s evolution over the years. “We made a pivot on that — and now we’re ready for another pivot in a major way, and that’s the fallout from COVID-19.”

The WorkPlace’s Bridgeport offices remain closed alongside those of Connecticut’s other workforce boards in New Haven’s Workforce Alliance, the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board in Waterbury, Capital Workforce Partners in Hartford and the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board in Franklin.
With Gov. Ned Lamont’s March emergency orders arriving even as The Workplace started up a new cycle of Platform to Employment, those seminars went virtual including through Zoom teleconferencing and other digital means. More than 50 trainees completed the program in May, with a dozen landing jobs in positions promising permanent employment, rather than those of temporary expediency necessitated by the pandemic.

“The rate of success has been excellent,” Carbone said. “They were not coming from one particular sector — it was a good, broad base of employer disciplines that they are going to.”

Carbone said the Platform 2 Employment application takes only a few minutes to complete online at platformtoemployment.com, with information also available by phone at (203) 610-8516 or via email at info@platformtoemployment.com.