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Economy

What’s Working: Colorado’s job board has 82,000 openings. But are they real?

Plus, training options, new opportunities for small businesses and why calls to the unemployment helpline had just a 5-second wait on Friday.

Pho 95 Noodle House at The Streets of Southglenn in Centennial was open for business on Feb. 7, 2021, and hiring. (Tamara Chuang, The Colorado Sun)
  • Credibility:

On the same day a group of frustrated and unemployed Coloradans organized a message-writing campaign to the media and politicians about unpaid jobless benefits, a group of business leaders voiced their frustrations about a related topic: jobs. 

“Quality of life actually starts with having a job,” Diane Schwenke, president and CEO of the Grand Junction Chamber, said during a news conference hosted by the Colorado Chamber. “And we have 150,000 less jobs right now in Colorado than we had before (the pandemic). … When it comes to things like being able to sustain our economy moving forward, it starts with businesses and it starts with jobs.”

But on the other hand, getting hired at one of the thousands of openings statewide has been hit and miss. Angela Ashlock, who organized the message campaign, said she’s just had her first interview in a year but didn’t get a follow up.  

“Honestly, I don’t know what I’m going to return to because all these companies say they’re hiring, and they’re actually not and that’s really frustrating,” Ashlock said. “I don’t know what people are supposed to say and do because we’re all trying to get jobs and none of us are even getting interviewed.”

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There were 82,225 openings posted on the state’s official job board Friday, up from around 70,000 in January. Nearly half are “location-neutral,” which means one can work from home. Many listings are for companies based out of state and hunting for workers who live anywhere.

I don’t doubt there are job openings in Colorado. But when I asked for feedback from readers back in January, I heard the numbers and jobs don’t add up. 

“It’s easy to boast (thousands of) jobs if you never remove old jobs, or list the same job 15 times,” said one woman who didn’t want to be named. (She has since found a job, which started with an Indeed.com post.)

She’s right. A new job at Oracle for a remote “Content Designer,” for example, was posted on the state job board 116 times on Friday. 

So, who really is hiring out there? If you’re an employer, share some hiring insight. And if you’re a job seeker, share your job-hunting experience by emailing tamara@coloradosun.com.

Job placement with a twist

Staffing agencies like Kelly Services have been around forever. I guess that means they’re working for people. And they literally are working for people because job-placement agencies place skilled workers with employers, who end up paying the agency. (Anyone have experience with these? Let me know.)

But if you don’t have needed skills or even a resume, consider an organization like Focus Points Family Resource Center in Denver. They’re the same nonprofit organization behind Comal, a restaurant/food incubator offering training in culinary arts and business management to immigrants and refugees.

Its Workforce program coordinates with employers to train and place immigrants and refugees and had its biggest placement year in 2020, placing 75% of candidates. 

That included stories of a janitor getting an IT certificate and getting a job at a tech company to Venezualan asylum seekers returning to their career field in the labs at Colorado Serum Company. Whitney Wise, Focus Point’s education and economic opportunity workforce manager, credits the success stories to a personal approach and the right partners. 

“As a result of the strong partnerships we have made, which specifically fit our participants’ professional goals, we’ve been able to continue to place participants in meaningful roles despite economic challenges and higher unemployment rates throughout the pandemic,” she said in an email. “This is also the reason for our high retention rates — we are serving in a customized manner that bridges the gap between job seeker and employer.”

>> Details

More on work: Get training

The reinstatement on Feb. 1 of work-search activity as a requirement for unemployment benefits, doesn’t mean one must apply for jobs each week. You can opt for job training, too. “Participating in job-related skills development activities” also counts, CDLE says. Here’s more details on approved activities.

Some suggestions? Goodwill of Colorado, which considers its thrift stores “a means to an end,” has a vast number of job-training opportunities statewide. But options are different by region, said Bradd Hafer, a company spokesman.

In the Pikes Peak region, Goodwill partners with a company called Medcerts to offer IT training through an 18-week program. While classes are currently virtual, it’s usually an in-person experience so students must be nearby. At the end, students can leave with an A+ certification to help land a job as help-desk technician or in other entry-level technical roles (starting salaries are $38,000, according to Medcerts).

Classes and certifications are free for participants, Hafer added.

The Denver area has BankWork$, which provides free training in the financial services and who want a career in the banking industry. The Colorado AgrAbility program, a partnership with CSU Extension, provides resources for aging farmers and ranchers or people with disabilities who want to work on a farm. There’s a number of Goodwill programs listed on its services page, plus a link to all available jobs at the organization. 

More training options:

Tech boot camps are another option for those who can afford it. CSU Extended Campus has partnered with New York company Fullstack Academy to provide intense training on cybersecurity and coding for 26-week sessions. Tuition is $11,490 and scholarships are available. >> Details

Pikes Peak Workforce Center offers online training via Upskill 2020, which is free and open to all Coloradans — and counts towards the state job-training requirements. >> Details

Did you miss: Unemployment revisions, a critical audit

Now that we’ve entered the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the job numbers are still not so great. Colorado Department of Labor and Employment data show more people collected unemployment last week than the prior week. The state said the number of people making a continued claim for the week of March 6 jumped 24.2% from the week before to 257,881.

What we did learn this week was CDLE overestimated and underestimated last year’s job and jobless numbers. It had to revise unemployment rates for nearly every month in 2020. But the biggest change was December’s unemployment rate, which is now at 6.9%, from 8.4%.

This won’t matter much if you’re out of work since the change doesn’t impact federal pandemic benefits. But it does make Colorado look better: Instead of having the nation’s 4th highest unemployment rate in December, we had the 16th highest.

>> STORY: Colorado’s pandemic job losses not as bad as previously announced

And then there was the audit.

The Colorado Office of the State Auditor released its 2020 report on state government finances and found CDLE’s record keeping through July 1 so inadequate, that the auditor put a rare disclaimer on its labor department assessment. Essentially, the auditor couldn’t figure out what happened to $1.4 billion in expenditures, or find data to back up which unemployed Coloradans were unpaid or overpaid. 

>> READ: Colorado Office of the State Auditor’s 2020 report

>> STORY: Colorado’s unemployment system kept inadequate records on who was overpaid or not paid at all, auditor says

Helpful resources: 

→ Colorado College student Emily Sulocha scanned past What’s Working columns and created a single app-like page at coloradounemployment.carrd.co with links to all sorts of resources. (Thanks Emily!) Find housing, legal services, mental health and, of course, jobs aid all in one place. She’s also taking suggestions. >> Check it out

Didn’t get your $1,400 stimulus payment yet? Check with the IRS on the status. >> Get my payment

Coming soon: This year, families with children can receive tax credits of up to $3,600 per child as part of the Child Tax Credit expansion under the new American Rescue Plan. But there are exceptions. Get the details from The Sun’s event with Sen. Michael Bennet, who wants to make the credit permanent. >> Watch

Unemployment: 5-second waits, while others remain unpaid 

CDLE’s unemployment dashboard had an incredible number on Friday: Five seconds to reach a call center agent. That’s way down from the nearly 90 minutes on hold on March 1. 

Jessica Hudgins Smith, press secretary for the Division of Unemployment Insurance, said the wait times have declined rapidly. Busiest days are Mondays. There’s also been a 20% drop in complaints about the call center since late February.

I told her I continue to hear from people who say they can’t get through or are on hold forever. Smith said she wants to hear from those folks. If that’s you, send me the details of the call and I’ll forward it. Of course, if the complaint is that the agent just can’t answer your question, send that too!

More critical though are the thousands of people still stuck with a fraud hold. Some haven’t been paid since last year. 

Last week, Phil Spesshardt, acting director of the state’s Unemployment Insurance Division, said there were 4,000 accounts still under investigation even after IDme. The majority had an information mismatch. (Some readers have shared that a mis-entered routing number to a bank account, a different phone number on a credit report and other typos were to blame for their frustrating holds.)

Smith said that number is always in flux as people use IDme but some end up with a mismatch. According to the CDLE dashboard, 14,006 identities were verified on IDme in the past week and $8.1 million was paid. But CDLE doesn’t share the number of “Holds Released” on its dashboard anymore. It’s been replaced by “Identities Verified.”

“As we’ve mentioned before, not all payment holds will be resolved through ID.me. Other issues may be holding up payment, so we felt ‘Holds Released’ needed to be revised to better describe this population,” Smith said. “…Staff work on these mismatches each day with some more complex issues than others with the complexity determining the time to resolve and the type of additional investigation that is required.”

Some good news: The “Double dip” issue that denies federal benefits to folks who are now in year two of unemployment is getting close to being fixed. One reader shared a letter she received this week from CDLE letting her know it was resolved. Since she’d already certified for several past weeks, the payments were sent immediately. 

What struck me was that CDLE told her about it. I asked Smith if this is a new practice?  

It depends “on the size of the population impacted,” she said. 

If too many people are impacted, then communication goes out by mass email, dashboard updates, press releases or another town hall. But, she added, “We continue to look for areas to segment claimants that allow us to more specifically target our communications.”

Paycheck loan extension and duplicate loans

The federal Paycheck Protection Program ends March 31. But with $100 billion still available, Congress may extend the deadline to May 31 and give the Small Business Administration an extra month to continue processing loans. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the PPP Extension Act of 2021 earlier this week and it now sits with the Senate.

The loans have helped millions of businesses through the pandemic, including The Colorado Sun. From Jan. 1 to As of March 14, 49,272 small businesses in Colorado were approved for $3.6 billion in loans. (Here are last year’s statistics for Colorado).

But just as Colorado’s auditor found that CDLE’s failed to sufficiently track federal funds coming and going to unemployed workers, the Paycheck loan program suffered a similar issue. The U.S. Office of the SBA Inspector General said this week that 4,260 borrowers received a PPP loan — twice. That cost the government $692 million.

Inspectors used tax IDs and business names and addresses to find the duplicates. The SBA blamed borrowers who “applied for PPP loans from more than one lender” and said “a computer script used to detect duplicates stopped working.” 

While OIG caught the error about six weeks after the Paycheck program began, the SBA by Aug. 4 had identified 40,209 duplicate loan numbers, though not all loans were funded. It resolved 95% of those and prevented 685,529 more duplications. 

The OIG’s recommendation? Besides fixing the problem, SBA must not forgive the duplicate loan. Read the report here.

→ Did you get an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan or other disaster loan last year? The due date for the first payments was extended for another year to 2022. >> Details

More small biz help:

→ Facebook has partnered with the Colorado Chamber of Commerce to share tips, tools and strategies on how to use tech to grow one’s business. The free event, called Boost with Facebook, is March 23 at 10 a.m. Diana Doukas, Policy Manager at Facebook, offered a sneak peak with this tip: Best practices for Facebook ads are to “test different photos, headlines, and other creative to see which has the highest performance, and delivers the most value.” Also, check out Facebook Blueprint, which offers 90 free courses in online advertising and marketing. >> Details and RSVP

→ A 14-week fellowship for underrepresented female tech entrepreneurs of color? That’s the pitch of startup Visible Hands, which seeks aspiring founders for the full-time but all virtual program. The Boston startup is tackling the venture-capital funding gap full of overlooked women and people of color. You don’t even need an idea or a tech background. The goal is to invest in the person, not the company. In exchange for a bit of equity, founders get “dedicated company building,” $25,000 and up to $175,000 in possible pre-seed investments (more in the FAQs). Want to take a shot? Applications are opening soon. >> Details


I have no idea how many people actually read to this line, but thanks to any loyal readers. This column is for you. I’m always interested in hearing your stories about unemployment, job hunting or hiring and the economics of surviving in Colorado. Email me at tamara@coloradosun.com. I don’t respond to all emails — especially those addressed to someone else — but if I can help share what I know, I try to. ~tamara


What’s Working is a Colorado Sun column for readers navigating pandemic employment. Read the archive and don’t miss the next one. Get this free newsletter delivered to your inbox by signing up at coloradosun.com/getww.

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