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As an assistant area director at the Lancaster Workforce Center, David Veal has worked with hundreds of unemployed county residents. But rarely does he find out how the programs his office provides helps those people after they leave his office.
That all changed several weeks ago when Veal was standing in line at Lancaster’s Wal-Mart store. As he approached the head of the check-out line, the employee behind the register asked to shake his hand. At first Veal didn’t recognize the man.
“He said ‘thank you’ and said ‘sir, you may not remember me but you helped me get this job,’” Veal said. “I was tickled to death.”
The man is a veteran who had come to his office weeks before looking for ways to return to work. Veal put him into a training program, which eventually led to him being hired by Wal-Mart.
“You don’t always see what happens afterward,” he said. “There’s some little things that are trickling down and helping people.”
Veal said there are several programs, like the one that helped that man, available through the workforce center. Most are available as part of the Workforce Investment Act, or WIA. This is a dislocated worker program that helps to retrain employees in their search for a new job. To qualify to participate in the program, people must first be registered with the S.C. Employment Security Commission.
Veal encourages interested people to make an appointment at the center and participate in a WIA orientation. The center offers a group orientation once a week, which Veal says attracts an average of 50 to 60 people each week. The WIA program pays up to $8,000 in tuition expenses, books and supplies for a person to attend a training institution, though not all programs cost this much.
“They’re involved in learning a new skill,” Veal said. “We’ll try to find you a job, and if not, we’ll pay for you to go to school. There’s a lot of people taking advantage of it right now.”
There is also On-the-Job Training available through the WIA program.
Through this program, companies can hire employees and provide them with on-the-job training, while the state reimburses 50 percent of their salary to the company.
“OJT is really unique,” Veal said. “We’d like to get more people involved. They learn as they go.”
Other services for businesses include the WorkKeys Program, which helps match an employee’s skill set to the correct job, and Work Opportunity Tax Credits, which helps move people from welfare to work.
One of the most popular training programs Veal has seen people sign up for is to receive their commercial driver’s license, or CDL. Veal says training to receive the CDL is only nine weeks long, after which he has seen most people go on to receive jobs as commercial truck drivers. He said the training programs have been received positively by county residents.
The center also helps with job searches, holds resume classes and has a resume expert on site. He says they also hold job fairs whenever they can put one together.
“We do the best we can with what we have and with what the economy can offer us,” he said.
The unemployment rate in Lancaster County rose to 19 percent in April, according to statistics from the S.C. Employment Security Commission. This represents the sixth-highest unemployment rate in the state, behind Chester, Allendale, Marlboro, Marion and Union counties. Chester led the state with 21.8 percent unemployment. As of April, Lancaster had a workforce of 30,173 people, with 5,724 unemployed.
Despite these numbers, Veal has actually seen many people find jobs in the area. He hopes this signifies an upward trend in the local economy.
“Hopefully things will come around,” he said. “The local news is saying things are turning around, and generally the unemployment rate falls about six months later. Hopefully it will swing around and improve for our county.”
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at 416-8416