In southeastern Michigan these days job seekers just may find the work they're looking for by curling up in front of the television set. In a model program yet to be fully replicated anywhere else in the country, a number of area colleges, social service agencies, business, unions, and government unemployment offices have joined hands to develop a team system to help thousands looking for work.
This year-old Communication Information System for the Unemployed (CISU) offers information about jobs 24 hours a day on a special cable-TV channel. Everything from training programs and jobs to unemployment-survival services and advice on writing r'esum'es is shared.
Working Channel programs, as they are called, directly reach some 380,000 homes in 67 communities in the area. While Detroit itself is not yet cabled, residents are expected to have such television access within a few years. In the meantime, the programming is widely available at a variety of community sites around the city. Those watching can learn about services offered by some 800 area agencies.
As part of the package, CISU also sponsors Working Circles for small groups of unemployed neighbors in libraries, churches, and schools. The circles, which often tap Working Channel programs in their discussions, act as a support network for individual job seekers. Members do everything from sharing job leads to conducting mock job interviews.
It was that kind of interview role-playing that most helped Detroit's Donna Mott. After getting an associate degree in accounting from a community college last spring, she made the rounds of Detroit banks, leaving her r'esum'e and an application.
Hearing nothing over the summer, she decided to follow a friend's advice and sign up with a CISU Working Circle in a neighborhood church. When one of the banks finally invited her to come for an interview in August, she landed a job as a clerk in the international loan department after one visit. ``I had become a little discouraged, but the job came when I most needed it and all that advice about interviewing really helped,'' she says.
Joseph Gray, retired after a job repairing machinery with an automobile plant, saw a sign for one of the Working Circle programs in a school window and decided to ``give it a shot.'' After enrolling, he found that an auto mechanics course, one of his longtime interests (``I love working on cars''), was being offered right in the same school. He took the course and was asked to stay on as an instructor.
Otto Feinstein, who is director of program development at Wayne State University's College of Lifelong Learning, says the idea for the Detroit area's twofold employment program has its roots to a degree in the oil crisis of 1973. He was then trying to develop a higher education curriculum on TV that would enable those who were unemployed to continue their education while remaining available for work.
But Dr. Feinstein says the TV side of helping the jobless is only marginally useful without the individually tailored Working Circle counterpart.
``It's sort of like teaching a class,'' he says. ``The easy part is giving the lecture. The tough part is making sure students learn. You have to turn this ability to give people mass information into some kind of action that isn't frustrating and that leads them to getting trained or educated for jobs.''
Feinstein stresses that employers, sometimes reluctant to share jobs information because they might be overwhelmed with applicants, and job seekers need education to really use the system.
The effect of the CISU cable effort is hard to measure. But most community employment agencies in this state, where unemployment is still several points above the national average, say client loads are heavier because of it. And more than 1,000 Michiganders now in job-training programs say TV was their lead.
Don McGhee, who is broadcast coordinator for the Michigan Employment Security Commission and host of a weekly program called the ``Job Show'' (also on cable), says the last eight minutes of his half-hour program and another daily 30-minute program list or describe jobs.
Interested visitors from France, Belgium, England, and a number of US cities have stopped by the CISU headquarters, Feinstein says. He is awaiting word on a proposal submitted to the US Department of Labor to establish the model in 20 American cities as part of a national demonstration project.
The CISU effort is largely funded by the federal Job Training and Partnership Act.