GCC career center is full

GLENDALE — Just as California budget woes have put pressure on Glendale Community College administrators and staff this year, students are also experiencing the strain of the recession.

Students are on edge, classes are full, and those with jobs are holding on.

“Employment looms on everyone’s mind,” said Jennifer Gonzalez, a 19-year-old in her first year. “People don’t know what to study. They want to be teachers, but teachers are being fired.”

Administrators are reporting record activity in the college career center, where students of all ages and backgrounds update resumes, search for jobs online and meet with career counselors.

Last year, the college’s annual job fair was smaller than average.

“I had to hustle to get employers in here,” said Kathy Kostjal, an associate in student employment services.

The career center is the hub for on- and off-campus employment opportunities. Younger students find work baby-sitting, performing clerical tasks or tutoring, but many visitors to the career center are “mid-career people looking for training because they need a job to support their family,” said Andra Verstraete, the director of student employment. “These mid-career people are depressed, and having a hard time getting into classes.”

Glendale Community College has seen a significant number of older students enroll and come to the career center “to talk about jobs and what’s happening to them,” said Judy Apablaza, a career counselor.

In an adjacent office, a student sat in tears.

Narine Gevorgyan was a math teacher for 14 years in Armenia, but has not found full-time employment since she moved to California in 2006.

“I’d volunteer anywhere,” she said. “My English is not excellent. But I like children and math . . . and I taught at a very good school.”

Staff said many students seek employment in emerging sectors in engineering, computer science, health care, animation and eco-friendly industries.

“There are jobs out there for people with the right training,” Apablaza said.

Budget cuts have made registering for classes more competitive, students said. Fewer classes are offered this year than last, and students cannot transfer and advance without certain courses.

“Students who need necessary classes like math and English can’t get in,” said Marcela Velez, 20, who has been taking general education courses for the last 2 1/2 years, and works part time in a clothing store. Despite the cuts, the college’s budget committee has done a good job of preserving student jobs, Verstraete said. Glendale Community College cut its budget by about $1 million, instituted a hiring freeze and cut a third of the college’s winter offerings in order to accommodate reduced state funding.

But as the workforce continues to contract, the college’s vocational programs have emerged as a silver lining, administrators said.

“We have students who are 20, who are older and a lot of laid-off construction workers who want to be retrained,” said Jan Swinton, an associate dean in the instruction services and workforce development department. “Our programs are more popular this year than in years past, and a lot of people who have been laid off, their industry will be changing.”

Apablaza surveyed the students waiting outside her corner of the office.

“What’s that old adage?” she asked.

“When your neighbor is out of a job, it’s a recession. When you’re out of a job, it’s a depression.”

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