BELL GARDENS : City Opens Office for Job Referrals

People usually stop by City Hall to pick up a dog license or a building permit, but now Bell Gardens residents can go there to search for a job.

With assistance from their neighbors in Commerce, Bell Gardens officials last week celebrated the opening of a job referral office for residents. The effort is designed to help reduce joblessness in the city, where unemployment is almost twice the national average.

The office in the basement of City Hall is linked by computer to a job list compiled by the City of Commerce, which has been operating its own referral service for more than a dozen years and has placed about 500 people in jobs every year.

Adriana Ulloa, senior administrative analyst in Bell Gardens, says that when doors swung opened Wednesday, the jobs office had 54 positions to dole out. A dozen more job openings were expected every day, she said.

"We have already gotten calls from people who want to know when we are opening," Ulloa said a day before the office opened. In preparation for the opening, Ulloa said, the three-member staff worked feverishly to locate jobs.

Most of the jobs available through the city's office are clerical, warehouse, or sales positions and pay at least minimum wage and up to $16 per hour, she said.

The unemployment rate in Bell Gardens, a city of 43,000, is about 13%, Ulloa said. According to 1993 statistics from the state Department of Finance, the median family income in the city was $23,819.

"We are working hand-in-hand (with Commerce) to try to break the cycle of poverty," Ulloa said.

Ulloa said the office was necessary because many Bell Gardens residents had a difficult time finding transportation to Commerce to make use of that city's job referral office. Commerce officials decided to help establish the Bell Gardens office so that the two cities will not have to compete against each other in the job market.

"For them to develop something brand new, it would take five to seven years . . . and they would compete with us," said Robert Chavez, social services manager in the City of Commerce. "We proposed that instead of competing, wouldn't it be a brighter idea to expand the current service to help out Bell Gardens residents?"

Now for the first time, unemployed residents in Bell Gardens can make an appointment locally to see a public employment counselor. Ulloa said that it only takes about 15 minutes for people to add their names and other relevant information to the computerized list. Like a dating service, the computer matches the applicant's skills with job openings in the area.

In addition, the new computer system in Bell Gardens can print a polished resume for each job seeker who uses the free service.

"The immediate goal is to get people jobs," Ulloa said. "But we (eventually) want to help them develop careers."

The city also wants to create programs that teach applicants how to act in a job interview, get along in the workplace and maximize skills to earn a living.

Collecting names of unemployed workers is only half the battle. The city is also hoping to establish its service in the regional business community. Chavez said that businesses from as far as Orange County have contacted the referral office in Commerce.

"We know that everyone wants to work," Chavez said. "This is putting meat and potatoes on the table."

Information: (310) 806-7700.

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