Program lets unemployed try out jobs while keeping benefits

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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. -- Tisa Long spent eight months looking for work prior to getting laid off from her job as manager at a Quiznos in Mebane.

"I put in anywhere from 10 to 15 applications a week online. I never got a call back. Not one," Long said.

She felt hopeless for months, but then she heard about "Opportunity North Carolina" -- a new program through the Employment Security Commission office that lets people try out a job and still receive unemployment benefits.  Employers agree to train the person for six weeks without paying them.

"What we're hoping is the match is made, the training is completed, the job is offered and somebody is off of UI before their claim ends, which saves money for the unemployment insurance trust fund," said Andy James, director of Opportunity North Carolina.

ONC also saves employers a bundle on recruitment costs.

Jennifer Talley owns several businesses in Graham and has hired four people through ONC, including Long.

"Sometimes people look great on paper, but they're not a good fit for your company when they come in and you start working with them on a day-to-day basis," Talley said. "So it's really nice to have that six-week learning curve shortened, and you don't feel like you're paying to teach someone your business."

Long is working as a bookeeper at Colonial Hardware and Farm Services in Graham.

"It made me feel good. I had been eight months out of work. I have recommended it to everybody I know on unemployment," Long said.

Of the 52 people who have completed job training through ONC, 50 have been offered a job. People who sign up for training also receive $100 per week for transportation costs.

"This is not putting a brick layer in a brick laying job. This is taking somebody who has an interest and the skills that could be transferable into something else," James said.

For more information, check out the Opportunity North Carolina website.

The Obama Administration is starting a similar program called "Bridge to Work," and North Carolina may be eligible for federal funding.