Jessica Bilger works hard to put others to work.
Bilger, 30, of Bellefonte, directs the Centre County office of Pennsylvania CareerLink.
Like millions of others, she’ll take a break this Labor Day, but when she and her staff return, they’ll get back to the business of helping people young and old join the work force and make a living wage.
How has job-searching changed in the past decade?
In the past decade, as far as job-seeking changing, really the Internet is probably the biggest thing. Before, newspaper ads were pretty much where people were doing a lot of their job searches, while now, they’re doing a lot more with the Internet.
Not only that, but resumes actually were read by a person. Nowadays, computer software comes into play, where they’re scanning resumes and looking for key words. Someone’s not necessarily just looking at a resume, as a live person.
Other things people have a hard time with are responses from employers. A long time ago, you’d get a thank you for applying, or some response, where nowadays, people often don’t hear back from an employer. We have a lot of customers who ask us what should they do. Should they call the employers? Should they send them an email? Which they should. They should check up on the application status.
What are some challenges facing people looking for work these days?
The economy, in the forefront, is one of the biggest challenges. ... A lot of jobs have been eliminated; they’re not coming back. Everyone’s doing more with less. When we can prove that we can do that, we’re not hiring as many people as we used to be.
The gaps in employment also is a huge challenge. People are unemployed longer. That’s proving to be something that employers are taking a long look at: Why are they unemployed longer? Again, (employers) have more applicants to go through, more applicants to look at. But at the same time, they’re looking to see what gaps people have in their employment. Are there areas of the job market that are more promising these days than others?
The health care industry has definitely grown, and is growing.
I say that, but the industry isn’t for everyone. So while there are jobs there, and everyday I’m on Yahoo or on the Internet, looking at different articles, a lot of the time they’re talking about jobs in that industry, where the money is at, but that’s not necessarily a job or a field for everyone.
I think the health care industry would agree with me saying that, because a lot of people apply for jobs, or a lot of people will come out with nursing degrees, but the customer service aspect isn’t there. Not all people can work in that industry.
Is it harder or easier than before for people to switch careers or retrain themselves?
I think it’s harder. I think for a college graduate, they’re having just as much trouble finding employment right out of college as an adult who is trying to switch careers.
I think there’s more competition. Technical skills are very important. I look at different schools that we have here, like (Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology) in Centre County, and I think about how important schools like that are, because students are coming out of there doing the actual work. They are being taught the technical skills to go out into multiple fields.
What are employers now looking for in applicants?
Soft skills — being able to problem-solve, communication. It doesn’t take the place of technical skills to do a job, but they’re looking for analytical skills, flexibility, adaptability, leadership, management skills. Those are super, super important.
And when we’re working with employers here at the CareerLink, that’s what they’re looking for. That’s what they’re asking for. When individuals are going into interviews, they’re being asked to prove they have those skills.
So they look great on paper, and they have those technical skills, and they might have done that exact job before with another company, but (employers) are still looking for that soft-skill piece, that customer service aspect.
What other advice do you give clients today?
Volunteering. Again, I think one of the biggest challenges, because of the economy, is gaps in employment. Employers are looking to see what people are doing.
So I’m not telling someone to go down the street and get a part-time job at minimum wage, but I’m saying that they should be trying to fill that gap with important work. Whether it’s volunteering somewhere or something else, they’re out being involved in the community — while they’re doing their job search.
I think that is very important to continue to be able to market yourself and show you are doing something within that time period.
What’s one of your memorable success stories?
I think one of the most memorable, or something that stands out, is that we partner with Experience Works, which is a program for people who are 55 and older. I can remember a particular customer who came here and utilized our services to the max, was here taking workshops and taking the assessments we had to offer. And knowing she was able to get a job with a local company that paid sustaining wages, and she was able to get back on her feet ... that’s what we do.
That’s what’s important to me. Anytime someone comes in here and they’ve found employment and they’re excited about it and they come back to share it, that’s a success to me. It doesn’t happen every day. It doesn’t happen every week. But when it does, we make sure to celebrate those moments.
What satisfaction do you take from your job?
Just being able to help people. If it’s not something that we can necessarily do here, it’s being able to provide people with something for their next step. Their house is in foreclosure, (and) it’s some way of getting them a referral for somewhere else.
Growing up, what did you want to be?
I had a great high school civics teacher and a history teacher, so I always wanted to be involved in politics in some way. And then I got to college and I realized that there is a whole big world out there with different things to do, and changed my major multiple times. ...
I started out as history, and worked my way to political science, and then concentrated on women’s issues and rights.
I came out of Penn State with a degree in women’s studies. It really prepared me for a leadership role, which is where I am today.
What’s your dream job?
Some day, I always thought I would own my own business. What that business would be I don’t know. But my dream job would be able to just have something of my own, and share that with others, in a business of some sort, and have great employees working with me.
I love working with people. I love that aspect. I love talking to people, which is why I love what I do. I have a great staff here, and they make my job so much more enjoyable. Without them, it would be a much different environment.